What is Onomatopoeia?

Onomatopoeia Definition

Onomatopoeia indicates a word that sounds like what it refers to or describes. The letter sounds combined in the word mimic the natural sound of the object or action, such as hiccup. A word is considered onomatopoetic if its pronunciation is a vocal imitation of the sound associated with the word.

Use of Onomatopoeia in Literature

Onomatopoeia is used by writers and poets as figurative language to create a heightened experience for the reader. Onomatopoetic words are descriptive and provide a sensory effect and vivid imagery in terms of sight and sound. This literary device is prevalent in poetry, as onomatopoetic words are also conducive to rhymes.

Common Examples of Onomatopoeia

  • The buzzing bee flew away.
  • The sack fell into the river with a splash.
  • The books fell on the table with a loud thump.
  • He looked at the roaring
  • The rustling leaves kept me awake.

The different sounds of animals are also considered as examples of onomatopoeia. You will recognize the following sounds easily:

  • Meow
  • Moo
  • Neigh
  • Tweet
  • Oink
  • Baa

Groups of Onomatopoeic Words

Onomatopoeic words come in combinations, as they reflect different sounds of a single object. For example, a group of words reflecting different sounds of water are: plop, splash, gush, sprinkle, drizzle, and drip.

Similarly, words like growl, giggle, grunt, murmur, blurt, and chatter denote different kinds of human voice sounds.

Moreover, we can identify a group of words related to different sounds of wind, such as swish, swoosh, whiff, whoosh, whizz, and whisper.

Onomatopoeia in Comics

Comics show their own examples of different types of onomatopoeia. Different comics use different panels where bubbles show different types of sounds. Although sometimes authors and illustrators show the exact sounds of animals, or the sound of the falling of something or some machines, somethings they create their own sounds as well. These sounds depend upon the inventiveness of the illustrator as well as the writer. Most of these sounds are crash, zap, pow, bang, or repetition of different letters in quick succession intended to create an impression of sounds.

Impacts of Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia not only creates rhythm but also beats, as the poets try to create sounds imitating the sound creators. These sounds create a sensory impression in the minds of the readers which they understand. The readers also understand the impacts of the sounds, their likely meanings, and their roles in creating those meanings. When used in poetry, onomatopoeia creates a rhythmic pattern that imitates the sounds in reality. This vice versa movement of sounds shows the onomatopoeic use of words to create a metrical pattern and rhyme scheme.

Use of Onomatopoeia in Sentences

  1. When cats are crying miaow, miaow, it means they are hungry.
  2. As soon as the mother heard the bell sing ding dong, she excitedly ran to open the door.
  3. When he fell down, there was a ‘whoosh’ he caused a big splash in the water which caused the other swimmers to get up.
  4. When Mathew dropped his mobile, he heard a ‘crash’ that made him cry immediately.
  5. Once upon a time, Jeanie rubbed an old lamp and ‘poof’ a real genie appeared in front of her.

Examples of Onomatopoeia in Literature

Onomatopoeia is frequently employed in the literature. We notice, in the following examples, the use of onomatopoeia gives rhythm to the texts. This makes the descriptions livelier and more interesting, appealing directly to the senses of the reader.

Below, a few Onomatopoeia examples are highlighted in bold letters:

Example #1: Come Down, O Maid By Alfred Lord Tennyson

“The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
And murmuring of innumerable bees…”

Example #2: The Tempest By William Shakespeare

“Hark, hark!
The watch-dogs bark!
Hark, hark! I hear
The strain of strutting chanticleer
Cry, ‘cock-a-diddle-dow!'”

Example #3: For Whom the Bell Tolls By Ernest Hemingway

“He saw nothing and heard nothing but he could feel his heart pounding and then he heard the clack on stone and the leaping, dropping clicks of a small rock falling.”

Example #4: The Marvelous Toy By Tom Paxton

“It went zip when it moved and bop when it stopped,
And whirr when it stood still.
I never knew just what it was and I guess I never will.”

Example #5: Get Me to the Church on Time By Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe

“I’m getting married in the morning!
Ding dong! the bells are gonna chime.”

Examples #6: The Bells by Edgar Allen Poe

Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells,
In a happy Runic rhyme,
To the rolling of the bells—
Of the bells, bells, bells—
To the tolling of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells—
Bells, bells, bells—
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.

Onomatopoeia and Phanopoeia

Onomatopoeia, in its more complicated use, takes the form of phanopoeia. Phanopoeia is a form of onomatopoeia that describes the sense of things, rather than their natural sounds. D. H. Lawrence, in his poem Snake, illustrates the use of this form:

“He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the
edge of the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness
He sipped with his straight mouth…”

The rhythm and length of the above lines, along with the use of “hissing” sounds, create a picture of a snake in the minds of the readers.

Function of Onomatopoeia

Generally, words are used to tell what is happening. Onomatopoeia, on the other hand, helps readers to hear the sounds of the words they reflect. Hence, the reader cannot help but enter the world created by the poet with the aid of these words. The beauty of onomatopoeic words lies in the fact that they are bound to have an effect on the readers’ senses, whether that effect is understood or not. Moreover, a simple plain expression does not have the same emphatic effect that conveys an idea powerfully to the readers. The use of onomatopoeic words helps create emphasis.

Synonyms of Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia does not have any synonyms. However, some words come very close to it in meanings such as sounds, imitation of sounds, onomatope, alliteration, echo, echoism, and mimesis. Yet, they have different meanings of their own.

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