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What is Onomatopoeia? Meaning, Effects and Usage

The English language has many imitating words that sound like what they are. Onomatopoetic words like "crash," "wow" and "drip" are common in everyday conversations. And in literature, you can harness these words to create vivid auditory imageries. In this article, we explore the meaning, effects, and usage of onomatopoeia.

What is onomatopoeia? 

Onomatopoeia is a word that echoes or suggests the sound that it depicts. The phonetic combination in the word resounds the natural sounds of that object or action. It comes from the mix of two Greek words, "onoma," meaning "name," and "poiein," meaning "to make." Thus, onomatopoeia simply means "to make a name." You define an onomatopoeic word as nothing more than the sound it makes. Consider the word booing, for example; it is a word that portrays the sound of a disapproving or hostile crowd. It's just a sound effect, but it can also create vivid auditory imagery with efficient usage.

Effects of onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is effective in portraying auditory descriptions vividly. It captures the reader’s imagination and compels them to mentally say the word, evoking the picture you intend to create. Your narration feels real when your readers can almost hear the creaking of the floor, the banging of the door, the clashing of smashed china, or the rustling of dry leaves. For example, “The wind bellowed, whizzed, and whooshed” is more evocative than “The wind blew.”

Three ways to use onomatopoeia effectively

You can use onomatopoeia as an interjection to express the sound a thing or action makes. For example, "I was walking on the way to the grocery store, when — boom! — a car exploded right in front of me." But this usage is not always efficient. In fact, many people have a problem with it. Using too many interjections or one-word sentences can affect the pace of your work and make readers lose interest in it. To achieve the desired effect without losing your readers, you can use onomatopoeia as a noun, verb, or adjective.

1. Onomatopoeia as verbs

 Using powerful, active verbs is the best way to be evocative with your description. They also provide your work with explicitness, allowing readers to fully encounter a scene and help set the tone of your narration. And onomatopoetic verbs fit the description and serve these purposes. Consider this example: "He banged the door as he stomped into the room; the mirror behind it crashed to a thousand pieces, and the cat lying nearby meowed and dashed out through the window." Here, the onomatopoetic words create a vivid picture, and readers can experience the sounds in the scene.

2. Onomatopoeia as nouns

You can use onomatopoeia as a noun. Here, it names a sound and adds a level of realness to your prose. For example, "Her giggles rang through the quiet hall; the blissful chortle was so contagious, and soon every corner vibrated with chuckles and guffaws." Also, here is a classic example from Allen Poe's The Bell (1849): "To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells From the bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells — From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells."

3. Onomatopoeia as adjectives

Onomatopoeia can occur as adjectives as well, where it describes a thing by the sounds it makes. Here is an example from 1 Peter 5:9 (KJV): "Be ye sober, and wake ye, for your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion goeth about, seeking whom he shall devour." Other phrasal examples include crackling fire, groaning bellies, giggling children, tweeting birds, rushing wind, and so on. Onomatopoetic adjectives can be very effective, but you should use them sparingly.

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Frank Stephen