In rhetoric, linguistics and poetry, onomatopoeia is a figure of speech that employs a word, or occasionally, a grouping of words, that imitates, echoes, or suggests the object it is describing, such as "bang", "click", "fizz", "hush" or "buzz".
Onomatopoetic words exist in every language, although they are different in each. For example, in Latin, tuxtax is the equivalent of "bam" or "whack" and was meant to imitate the sound of blows landing. In Ancient Greek, koax was used as the sound of a frog. In Japanese, dokidoki is used to indicate the beating of a heart. Sometimes onomatopoetic words have a very tenuous relationship with the sound they describe, such as bow-wow in English and mung-mung in Chinese for the sound a dog makes.
Examples and Uses of Onomatopoeia
Some very common English-language examples include:
For animal sounds, the following words are typically used in English:
See also http://www.georgetown.edu/faculty/ballc/animals/animals.html for information on animal sounds throughout the world.
Examples in literature
Examples in literature often strive to be more suggestive than imitative:
- "Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark innyard". Alfred Noyes The Highwayman
- "My days have crackled and gone up in smoke..." Francis Thompson The Hound of Heaven
- "And the ere three shrill notes the pipe uttered, / You heard as if a army muttered; / The muttering grew to a grumbling; / And the grumbling grew to mighty rumbling; / And out of the house the rats came tumbling." Robert Browning The Pied Piper Of Hamelin
- "The moan of doves in immemorial elms, / And murmuring of innumerable bees. Alfred Lord Tennyson
Onomatopoeia in music
Onomatopoeia-based music uses the mouth and vocal cords (that is, voice) as the primary musical instrument. A common musical tool in European and American cultures is a method of voice music, technically called as solfege. A solfege is a vocalized musical scale that is commonly known as Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti. A solfege may be sung, spoken or used in a combination. A variety of similar tools are used in voice improvisation found in scat singing of jazz, Delta blues and also rock and roll and the ska variation of reggae music (especially in the form of ska called Two Tone). Asian music, especially carnatic music employs onomatopoeia to a large extent.
It should be noted that historically, some forms of onomatopoeia served as a mnemonic and a mimetic tool for musicians around the world, for example kuchi shōga, a Japanese system for pronouncing drum sounds. See Voice instrumental music.
According to Dick Higgins, "Three basic types of sound poetry from the relative past come to mind immediately: folk varieties, onomatopoetic or mimetic types, and nonsense poetries. The folk roots of sound poetry may be seen in the lyrics of certain folk songs, such as the Horse Songs of the Navajos or in the Mongolian materials collected by the Sven Hedin expedition." (Primary reference: Henning Haslund-Christiansen, "The Music of the Mongols: Eastern Mongolia" 1943:New York, Da Capo Press:1971; secondary reference: "A Taxonomy of Sound Poetry" by Dick Higgins, From "Precisely: Ten Eleven Twelve", 1981).
Onomatopoeia in advertising
Advertising uses onomatopeoia as a mnemonic so consumers will remember their products:
Rice Krispies - "Snap, crackle, pop" when you pour on milk
Alka-Seltzer - makes a "plop, plop, fizz, fizz" noise when dunked in water
- Cocoa Puffs - a wacky bird is "cuckoo" for them
Occasionally, words for things are created from representations of the sounds these objects make. In English, for example, young children and their parents often refer to a locomotive as a "choo-choo."
A number of animals, especially birds, also get their names from the onomatopoeic link with the calls they make, such as the Cuckoo, the Whooping Crane, and the Chiffchaff.
Onomatopoeias in pop culture
- The image Whaam! by Roy Lichtenstein is one of the earliest examples of pop art, featuring a fighter aircraft firing a rocket into an enemy plane with a dazzling red and yellow explosion.
- In Super Mario games, Thwomp is the sound that the big crush block makes, and is also the name of the monster. Whomp is Thwomp's brother, and WHOMP! is the onomatopia that Whomp would make.
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04