Sounds Like…Onomatopoeia

Batman's Robin lands a POW! on the villain
Onomatopoeia at work

Welcome to Amazing Words Wednesday, the day we enter the labyrinth of language and see what we can find. Today we’re looking at words that sound like what they mean. That is, onomatopoeia.

Onomatopoeia. For some reason, to me that word conjures up a black-slacked, crisp-white-shirted waiter at an Italian restaurant saying something like, “Would you like mozzarella on your onomatopoeia?” Of course, you have to say it just right to get the rhythm to make it sound like a pasta dish! But still…

Seriously, onomatopoeia is a wonderful tool. Its official definition is “the formation of a word, as cuckoo or boom, by imitation of a sound made by or associated with its referent.” Stories come alive for an audience when we can tap into their five senses. How did it look, smell, sound, taste, or feel? Onomatopoeia is a sure way to bring in sound.

Try out this poem by Eve Merriam:

The Rusty Spigot

The rusty spigot
sputters,
utters
a splutter,
spatters a smattering of drops,
gashes wider;
slash
splatters
scatters
spurts
finally stops sputtering
and plash!
gushes rushes splashes
clear water dashes.

You can hear the water coming out of the faucet as you read.  Other poetic examples include Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll and the classic Bells by Edgar Allen Poe:

Jabberwocky excerpt

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

Bells excerpt

How they clang, and clash and roar!
What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air!
Yet the ear, it fully knows,
By the twanging,
And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows;
Yet the ear distinctly tells,
In the jangling,
And the wrangling,
How the danger sinks and swells,
By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells –
Of the bells –
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells –
In the clamor and the clanging of the bells!

Let's Go Home, Little Bear book coverI can think of examples in the world of children’s books that I have read to my own kids.  For instance, in Let’s Go Home, Little Bear by Martin Waddell and Barbara Firth, a little bear is walking home with his father and hears things that go CREAK, WOO, and PLOD.  My children could imagine the sounds of the flake-covered forest as the bears plodded along in the snow.

Other authors have done beautifully in using sound-saturated words to help the reader envision the story.  As I write, I have to think at times:  Should this engine run or rumble?  Should this character laugh or chortle?  Should this bird fly or flutter its wings?  Should one speak quietly or whisper? Should my character say, “Oh, no!” or “Aaarrggh!” You get the gist.

Looking for a good sound-word? Here’s a good Onomatopoeia Word List to start with, or check out 21 Buzzy Onomatopoeias.

What are some of your favorite onomatopoeia words?  How does the use of onomatopoeia can enrich your reading and/or writing? 

Sources: Dictionary.com; Bright Hub Education; University of Illinois College of Education; Jabberwocky.com; Fordham University

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9 thoughts on “Sounds Like…Onomatopoeia

  1. So fun! I love playing with words. It makes both writing and teaching reading fun. It is the playing with words I think we need to pass on to kids. That will make them life long readers and writers. 🙂

    1. “It is the playing with words I think we need to pass on to kids.” YES! I definitely want kids to learn the power of words. Beautifully put, Emma!

  2. Gotta love that onomatopoeia! One of the best ways to work in description of sounds, because many of these words are also active, descriptive verbs. Rain can patter on the roof, or it can roar. (There are a couple of my faves!)

  3. This post makes me smile. Love poetic devices and especially alliteration and onomatopoeia. Thanks for the Jabberwocky reference, too. I once had that all memorized. LOL

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