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An onomatopoeic word imitates the sound of the action or thing it describes.

The words we use to describe the sounds animals make, for instance, are examples of onomatopoeia: chirp, hiss, meow, oink, squeak, etc. Onomatopoeic words are also often used to describe collisions (crash, bang, wallop!); voice-related sounds (grunt, giggle, guffaw, rasp, wheeze, etc.); and water-related sounds (drip, gush, trickle, pitter-patter, etc.).

Here are ten examples of onomatopoeia!

  1. Bumblebee – The obvious onomatopoeic word associated with bumblebees is ‘buzz’, but the name of the creature itself is onomatopoeic too. ‘Bumblebee’ dates back to the 1520s and replaced the Middle English ‘humbul-be’. Both ‘bumble’ and ‘humbul’ imitate the humming, buzzing sound a bumblebee makes. In some dialects, people used the word ‘Dumbledore’ to refer to bumblebees and, as Harry Potter fans will know, J.K. Rowling later borrowed the word to name the Hogwarts headmaster as she "imagined him walking around humming to himself a lot".
  2. Drizzle – ‘Drizzle’ dates back to the 1540s and is possibly a modification of the Old English ‘drysning’ which means the ‘falling of dew’.
  3. Fanfare – The word ‘fanfare’ dates back to around 1600 and comes from the French ‘fanfarer’. ‘Fanfarer’, in turn, derives from the Arabic ‘farfar’, an onomatopoeic term similar to ‘chatter’.
  4. Flip –Flop – What an aptly named type of shoe! The term has been used since the 1970s.
  5. Frou Frou – You may not have heard of this term, but, like ‘flip-flop’, it also describes a clothing-related sound. The word is from the late nineteenth century and imitates the rustling sound of a woman walking in an ornate dress.
  6. Hiccup – ‘Hiccup’ dates back to the 1570s and before that ‘hicket’ and ‘hycock’ were used. The same phenomenon was known as ‘aelfsogoða’ in Old English – people used to believe that elves were behind hiccups.
  7. Lisp - It’s annoying that the word to describe a difficulty with pronouncing S sounds would have an S in it, but ‘lisp’ imitates the sound of the speech impediment. The word comes from the Old English ‘awlyspian’.
  8. Mumble – ‘Mumble’ dates back to the early fourteenth century and comes from ‘momelen’ which means to ‘eat in a slow, ineffective manner’. It’s possible that the word was first used to describe the sound of someone talking with their mouth full.
  9. Ping-Pong – Originally the game Ping-Pong was known as table tennis or lawn tennis. ‘Ping-Pong’ refers to the sound of the ball hitting the bats and was already in use when Parker Brothers eventually trademarked the name for their table tennis equipment in 1900.
  10. Owl – In the same way that we think of ‘buzz’ as onomatopoeic before we think of ‘bumblebee’ as so, most of us probably think of ‘hoot’ or ‘twit twoo’ as the obvious onomatopoeic terms associated with owls. The name of the creature is onomatopoeic too: it derives from the Old English ‘ule’, which in turn is from the Proto Germanic ‘uwwalon’ – both similar to the sound of an owl hooting.

Happy spelling, everyone!

 

NB: All etymologies are from Online Etymology Dictionary.


12 Mar 2014
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