Question from English4.today member Enrique in Spain:

What does the word ‘onomatopoeia’ mean… I’ve seen it and it is one of those weird english words that I find hard to understand”.

Here is the answer, Enrique!

Boom! Yes, that was an onomatopoeia. Not the sound itself but the word I used to describe it.

Onomatopoeia are words that imitate the sound of the object or actions they are describing. Thus from this: [sound] we get ‘woof woof’. And from this [sound] we get ‘meow meow’. And from this [sound] we get the rather approximate ‘cock-a-doodle-do’. And from explosions, electrical sounds, fights, slamming doors, etcetera, we get a whole range of comic book filler vocabulary such as ‘bang!’, ‘pow!’, ‘slap!’,’zip!’, ‘boom!’ and ‘crash!’.

Onomatopoeia ... what's that!? 1

You can see that some of these words like ‘boom’, a stock market boom, for example, or zip and crash have actually taken on a life of their own and refer not just to the originating sound but to a rapidly developing market, a type of accident or rapidly degenerating market, a crash, or to a fastening device used in clothing, a zip, and a compressed software file, a zip file.

The word comes for the Greek words ‘ónoma’ meaning ‘name and ‘poiéōn’ to make: the making of a name from the sound of the source. As usual, a very complicated sounding technical word referring to some of the simplest words in English.

Now, all languages have onomatopoeia and one of the fascinating things is to see just how varied words referring to the same source can be in different languages. For example in English a dog goes ‘woof woof’ and in French it goes ‘ouaf ouaf’. Now either dogs have different accents in different countries or the onomatopoeia is a very approximate and culturally influenced way of ‘translating’ a sound!

Anyway, I’ll leave you with that one. Let’s go out with a BLAST!

Here’s a list of some other common onomatopoeias.

  • Achoo
  • Bang
  • Bark
  • Bump
  • Buzz
  • Cackle
  • Chatter
  • Clap
  • Click
  • Crackle
  • Crash
  • Crunch
  • Ding-Dong
  • Drip
  • Growl
  • Haha
  • Hiccup
  • Honk
  • Howl
  • Hush
  • Knock
  • Meow
  • Moan
  • Moo
  • Oink
  • Plop
  • Poof
  • Pop
  • Pow
  • Psst
  • Quack
  • Ribbit
  • Ring
  • Roar
  • Rustle
  • Rumble
  • Shhh
  • Sizzle
  • Slap
  • Smash
  • Smack
  • Squish
  • Swoosh
  • Thud
  • Thump
  • Whisper
  • Whimper
  • Woof
  • Zip
  • Zoom