Onomatopoeia, our Word of the Day, is a word for words that sound like sounds. Bam! Pow! Hear it here.
Onomatopoeia is a figure of speech that imitates or echoes the sound it describes. Our Word of the Day can describe anything from a tuba’s oompah to the chef’s sizzle and crackle. Anything from the little bird’s chirp, to the big guy’s burp. The camera goes click, but if you get sick you may urp. It’s kerplunk when you drop it, but screech when you try to stop it.
Onomatopoeia is our noisiest Vocabulary Vitamin to date: Toot toot!
This word of the day describes word noises created out of necessity. You see, long ago, people were at a loss to describe the sounds various important animals, machines, musical instruments and activities produced. People struggled to explain that birds made quick, high, sharp, sounds when they could just say cheep or chirp and be done with it. Folks hemmed and hawed trying to tell the mechanic about ominous engine sounds, when a rattle, clang, clunk would have been more exact. Is it a moving train, or is it a choo choo? Do you want to play a game of “small ball across the table,” or do you want to play ping pong? Words that are onomatopoetic are emphatic. They have rhythm and cadence. They say in one or two syllables what could have taken a tired, tedious paragraph. Chugga chugga boom boom.
This Vocabulary Vitamin, Onomatopoeia, is very healthy for advertising careers.
Many an ad man or woman is exceedingly grateful for onomatopoeia. How else would you describe the fast relief of Alka Seltzer other than this famous onomatopoetic jingle: “Plop, pop, fizz, fizz.” Or how convey the crisp freshness of the cereal that goes “Snap, crackle, pop? Or tell a chap about seat belt safety in the UK? “Clunk, click, every trip.”)
Onomatopoeia, Word of the Day for words in any language
In America, all cats say “meow” but not so in the U.K. Cats across the pond have a British accent. They say “miow.” Dutch cats “miauw,” while Italians “Miao.” But do cats purr universally? Non, monsieur, in France they ronron. In fact, cats of every nationality can purr in the correct language. Here are other onomatopoetic translations of purr:
Japanese: goro goro
Onomatopoeia in contemporary culture:
Bling, the sound of light dancing off of a diamond
Yoink, the sound of something being stolen on the Simpsons
Today’s Vocabulary Vitamin:on• o• mato• poe• ia
Pronunciation: ˌä-nə-ˌmä-tə-ˈpē-ə, -ˌma-
Etymology: Late Latin, from Greek onomatopoiia, from onomat-, onoma name + poiein to make
Date: circa 1577
1: the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it (as buzz, hiss)
2: the use of words whose sound suggests the sense
– on• o• mato• poe• ic -ˈpē-ik or on• o• mato• po• et• ic -pō-ˈe-tik adjective
on• o• mato• poe• i• cal• ly -ˈpē-ə-k(ə-)lē or on• o• mato• po• et• i• cal• ly -pō-ˈe-ti-k(ə-)lē adverb
More examples of our Vocabulary Vitamin, onomatopoeia