[on-uh-mat-uh-pee-uh, ‐mah-tuh]
Onomatopoeia (also spelled onomatopœia, from Greek: ονοματοποιΐα) is a word or a grouping of words that imitates the sound it is describing, suggesting its source object, such as "click", "bunk", "clang", "buzz", "bang", or animal noises such as "oink", "moo", or "meow". The word is a synthesis of the Greek words όνομα (onoma, = "name") and ποιέω (poieō, = "I make" or "I create") thus it essentially means "name creation", although it makes more sense combining "name" and "I do", meaning it is named (and spelled) as it sounds (e.g. quack, bang, etc.).

Onomatopoeic words differ across languages because they always have to conform to some extent to the broader linguistic system they are part of. Thus the Norwegian tikk takk for the sound of a clock could never be a Dutch word because Dutch words never have long consonants at the end of the word; accordingly, the Dutch equivalent is tik tak.

In the case of a frog croaking, the spelling may moreover vary because different frog species around the world make different sounds: Ancient Greek brekekekex koax koax for probably Rana ridibunda; English ribbit for species of frog found in North America; English verb "croak" for Rana temporaria.

Cross-linguistic examples of onomatopoeia

Balloon bursting


Bird singing

Cannon firing or gun shot

  • In Tagalog boogsh, boom
  • In Arabic, bom, bov
  • In Brazilian Portuguese, bum
  • In Catalan, pam
  • In Chinese, Mandarin, cannon firing - pēng (嘭 or 砰); gun firing - ping, pang or Pa (乒 or 啪) (乒 also means "table tennis"); machine gun - da da da... (嗒嗒嗒) (嗒 singly means "clatter")
  • In Danish, bang, bum
  • In Dutch, cannon firing - boem, gun firing - pang or pauw, machine gun - ratatata
  • In English, bang, "brap", blam, boom, or pow
  • in Estonian, põmm
  • In Finnish, pum, pam: generally for all gunfire and explosions; ra-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta: an example of fully automatic gunfire.
  • In French, pan: a gun or cannon firing
  • In German, peng, puff, päng (pistol); rat-tat-tat-tat (machine gun); Bumm, Rumms, Kawumm (cannon)
  • In Greek, bam, (μπαμ)
  • In Indonesian, dorr, bum
  • In Hungarian bumm
  • In Italian, bum, bang
  • In Icelandic, búmm or bamm
  • In Lithuanian, bumpt
  • In Polish, bum
  • In Romanian, bum
  • In Sinhalese, ḍisum (ඩිසු‍‍ම්); ḍaka-ḍaka-ḍaka (ඩක-ඩක-ඩක) - automatic weapon; ḍung (ඩුං) - single shot
  • In Spanish, pum or bang
  • In Swedish, pang or bang: a gun shot
  • In Thai, pung (ปัง)
  • In Turkish, bam: a gun shot or bom: a cannon firing
  • In Hebrew, bum (בום)
  • In Tamil, doom
  • In Telugu, dhaam

Cat meowing

Collision sounds

  • In Arabic, bom, trakh
  • In Bengali: ঠাস ṭhash ঠুস ṭhush ধুম dhum ধাম dham
  • In Bulgarian, bum, dum tryas (бум, дум, тряс)
  • In Chinese, Cantonese, bìhng-līng baang-làahng (乒鈴嘭唥)
  • In Chinese, Mandarin, larger objects crashing, buildings falling down or bigger bombs detonating - hong (轰); describing glass shattering or metal objects falling to ground - guang-dang (哐当) or guang-lang (哐啷)
  • In Dutch: boem, knal
  • In English: boom, crunch, wham, bang
  • In Finnish: ryskis, kolin, rämin
  • In French, bing or bang or boum
  • In German, rumms or bumms
  • In Gilbertese. beeku: a collision.
  • In Haitian Creole, bip: the sound of a collision (eg. a car crash).
  • In Hebrew, bum, trakh (בום, טראח)
  • In Hindi, dhishumm, dhishum
  • In Indonesian, buk or brekk or j'derr
  • In Italian, sbam
  • In Korean: Koong: the equivalent of bang bang in English.
  • In Latin, tuxtax was the equivalent of bam or whack and was meant to imitate the sound of blows landing.
  • In Lithuanian, bumpt
  • In Malay, gedebak-gedebuk
  • In Sinhalese, daḍas (දඩස්)
  • In Spanish, pácatelas crash, or pungun
  • In Tamil, dhishumm, dhishum
  • In Turkish, güm

Crow calling


  • In Chinese, Cantonese, dìuh-díu fihng (吊吊捹)
  • In Chinese, Mandarin, objects creaking when swaying - yiya yiya (咿呀 咿呀)
  • In Czech, houpy-houp referring to motion similar to clock pendulum or baby swing chair.
  • In Dutch, doing-doing-doing referring to something dangling in a vertical motion.
  • In English, clink, clang
  • In Finnish, kilin, helin
  • In Korean, dal-lang dal-lang evoking the feeling of something dangling, slightly swaying.
  • In Tamil, sil-sila silu-sila

Dog barking

Duck calling

Frog croaking

Geese calling

Heart beating

  • In Arabic, bom bom
  • In Bengali: দুরদুর durdur, দুড়দুড় duṛduṛ
  • In Chinese, Cantonese - bìhng-bìhng (砰砰)
  • In Chinese, Mandarin, slightly excited - tong-tong (嗵嗵), excited - peng-peng (砰砰)
  • In Dutch, boenk boenk, boem boem
  • In English bum bum, du-thump, lub dub, tha-thump
  • In Estonian, tuks tuks
  • In Finnish, tu-tum, tykyn
  • In German, ba-dumm, bumm bumm
  • In Hindi daḍak (pronounced /ˈd̪əɖək/) and Urdu dhakdhak: a person's heartbeat, indicative of the sound of one beat.
  • In Indonesian, dag-dig-dug, deg-degan
  • In Japanese, doki doki (ドキドキ): the (speeding up of the) beating of a heart (and thus excitement).
  • In Korean, doogeun doogeun (두근두근)
  • In Portuguese, tun-tum
  • In Lithuanian, tuk tuk
  • In Tamil, lappu-tappu
  • In Hebrew, bum-búm (בום-בום).
  • In Spanish, bum bum bum,
  • In Swedish, dunk, dunk
  • In Turkish, dup dup
  • In Russian, "tuk-tuk" (тук-тук)
  • In Italian, tu tump


Rooster crowing



  • In Bengali: থৎমৎ thôtmôt, তৎলানো tôtlano (verb)
  • In Hebrew, gimgoom (גמגום).
  • In Sinhalese, bäk bäk (බැක් බැක්)
  • In Turkish, kekelemek

Tooth brushing

  • In English, brushing- "brusha brusha" alternatively "sshssh"
  • In Korean, chi-ka chi-ka
  • In Chinese, Mandarin, brushing - shua (唰)
  • In Polish "szuru szuru"
  • In Spanish, ¡chiqui chiqui! more frequent is ¡xiqui xiqui!

Wailing siren of a police car or ambulance

Water dripping

Wind blowing

  • In Bengali: ভোঁ bhõ, শন শন shôn shôn, ঝির ঝির jhir jhir
  • In Chinese, Mandarin: shiao-shiao (萧萧), Slightly strong wind - hu-hu (呼呼), Rapid/chilly wind - sou-sou (嗖嗖) (萧 means "dreary", 呼 means "shout (verb)")
  • In Czech: fíííí /fee/
  • In Japanese: byuu byuu, pyuu pyuu, zawa zawa, soyo soyo
  • In Vietnamese: vi vu: the sound of a gentle breeze and vù vù: the sound of a strong wind.
  • In English: Swish: The sound of a gentle breeze and Whoosh: the sound of a strong wind
  • In German: Huiiih
  • In Portuguese: Vuuuush
  • In Spanish, fuuuu fuuuu; fgrrrr frgrrrr
  • In Swedish: Svish
  • In Dutch: Woesh, Woesj
  • In Turkish:"vuuuu vuuuu"
  • In Tamil, Shhhhhhhhhh

Uses of onomatopoeia

Some other very common English-language examples include hiccup, bang, beep, and splash. Machines and their sounds are also often described with onomatopoeia, as in honk or beep-beep for the horn of an automobile, and vroom or brum for the engine. In science fiction the sounds made by laser weapons are often described as "zaps". For animal sounds, words like quack (duck), bark (dog), roar (lion) and meow (cat) are typically used in English. Some of these words are used both as nouns and as verbs.

Agglutinative languages or synthetic languages flexibly integrate onomatopoeic words into their structure. This may evolve into a new word, up to the point that it is no longer recognized as onomatopoeia. One example is English "bleat" for the sheep noise: in medieval times it was pronounced approximately as "blairt" (but without an R-component), or "blet" with the vowel drawled, which is much more accurate as onomatopoeia than the modern pronunciation.

An example of the opposite case is "cuckoo", which, due to continuous familiarity with the bird noise down the centuries, has kept approximately the same pronunciation as in Anglo-Saxon times and has not changed to having its vowels as in "furrow".

Verba dicendi are a method of integrating onomatopoeia and ideophones into grammar.

Occasionally, words for things are created from representations of the sounds these objects make. In English, for example, there is the universal fastener which is named for the onomatopoeic of the sound it makes: the zip (in the UK) or zipper (in the U.S.). Many birds are named from the onomatopoetic link with the calls they make, such as the Bobwhite quail, the killdeer, chickadee, the cuckoo, the chiffchaff, the whooping crane and the whip-poor-will. In Tamil and Malayalam, the word for crow is kaakaa. This practice is especially common in certain languages such as Māori and, therefore, in names of animals borrowed from these languages.

Advertising uses onomatopoeia as a mnemonic, so consumers will remember their products, as in Rice Krispies (US and UK) and Rice Bubbles (AU) which make a "snap, crackle, pop" when one pours on milk; or in road safety advertisements: "clunk click, every trip" (click the seatbelt on after clunking the car door closed; UK campaign) or "click, clack, front and back" (click, clack of connecting the seatbelts; AU campaign) or "click it or ticket" (click of the connecting seatbelt; US DOT campaign).

Manner imitation

In many of the world's languages, onomatopoeia-like words are used to describe phenomena apart from the purely auditive. Japanese often utilizes such words to describe feelings or figurative expressions about objects or concepts. For instance, Japanese barabara is used to reflect an object's state of disarray or separation, and shiiin is the onomatopoetic form of absolute silence (used at the time an English speaker might expect to hear the sound of crickets chirping or a pin dropping in a silent room). It is used in English as well with terms like bling, which describes the shine on things like gold, chrome or precious stones.

Onomatopoeia in pop culture

  • Whaam! (1963) by Roy Lichtenstein is an early example of pop art, featuring fighter aircraft being struck by rockets with dazzling red and yellow explosions.
  • Marvel Comics have trademarked two words of their own invention: thwip!, the sound of Spider-Man's web shooter, and snikt! the switchblade-sound of Wolverine's claws locking into place (which was replaced with the lesser-known schlikt during the period he was left without the adamantium covering on his bones). Marvel also uses the sound effect "bamf" to signify Nightcrawler's teleportation.
  • In Doctor Who comic strips, the sound of the Tardis is represented as vworp! vworp!
  • In the Garfield comic strip and television series, there is a running gag about a "splut," which is usually the sound of a pie hitting someone in the face.
    • For example, Garfield once kicked Odie, but instead of 'kick' it said 'blagoonga', with Garfield remarking to Jon that Odie needs to be tuned
  • The late MAD Magazine cartoonist Don Martin often used such words in his artwork, to comic effect.
  • In the 1960s TV series “Batman”, comic book style onomatopoeias such as wham!, pow!, "biff!", crunch and "zounds" appear onscreen during fight scenes. This is often the subject of parody, for example in the Simpsons episode "Radioactive Man" where the onomatopoeic words are replaced with snuh!, newt! and mint! which are references to other Simpsons episodes.
  • Ubisoft's XIII employed the use of comic book onomatopoeias such as bam!, boom and noooo! during gameplay for gunshots, explosions and kills, respectively. The comic-book style is apparent throughout the game and is a core theme, as the game is an adaptation of a comic book of the same name.
  • In the movie Winnie the Pooh: Springtime with Rooh, Tigger lists Onomatopoeia as a possible word that Rabbit doesn't allow to be said in his house. Tigger also announces that onomatopoeia is in fact a real word.
  • The onomatopoeia that is said to be heard at a typical Disco Biscuits (a popular jamband) show is untz. This description seems to have originated from an interview with Bob Dylan, who said "I kept hearing this, untz..untz..untz..untz..(sound in the background of all the music) time, though... lots of young kids with dilated pupils."
  • In Jonathan Swift's novel Gulliver's Travels, the name of the Houyhnhnm's is an onomatopoeia for the whinny of a horse.
  • Todd Rundgren wrote a humorous song "Onomatopoeia" which uses many examples in this "Love Song". Examples in the song start out reasonable and start to get more ludicrous as the song goes on.
  • The comic strip For Better or For Worse is notorious for using non-onomatopoeic verbs as onomatopoeias, such as "Scrape," to indicate a person shaving, or "Tie," to illustrate someone tying a string around a package.
  • A well-known rhetorical question is "Why doesn't onomatopoeia sound like what it is?". Ian M. Banks references this in his novel Use Of Weapons, when a character claims that the word onomatopoeia is spelled "just the way it sounds!".
  • Brian Preston, a popular Quizzo night host in Philadelphia used words like crash, boom, and fart to describe onomatopoeia. Unfortunately, fart is a non-onomatopoeia (although its Proto-Indo-European language ancestor perd- (compare Greek περδομαι and Avestic prd) is more realistic).
  • "Kerplunk" was used in the video game Final Fantasy VIII as the name of one of the Guardian Force Cactuar's attacks. For the Guardian Force Tonberry, the humorously out of place onomatopoeia of doink! is written on-screen during its powerful knife stab attack.
  • In the video game Brave Story: New Traveler, an onomatopoeia appears wherever an attack hits its target.
  • The January 8, 2008 comic of Ozy and Millie featured a panel in which Millie repeats the word "Splorsh" and Ozy quips "I've noticed you find Onomatopoeia extremely distracting."
  • "Uhn Tiss Uhn Tiss Uhn Tiss", recorded by The Bloodhound Gang in 2005 for their "Hefty Fine" album simulated the driving beat of most popular House and Rave music styles.
  • In one Captain America comic, the accidental use of the word "wank" as an onomatopoeia was found hilarious by many teenagers. (The enemy was saying "Captain America, I command you to-" but was interrupted by Captain America smacking him across the face and the "wank!" showed up right after the enemies' speech bubble; Thus looking as though it had said: "Captain America, I command you to- Wank!".)
  • The marble game KerPlunk is an onomatopoeia for the sound of the marbles dropping when one too many sticks has been removed.
  • Another popular onomatopoeia is "Om nom nom", which is used to describe the process of eating, or indicate one is hungry. This has recently become apparent on much internet media such as lolcatz.

See also


  • Crystal, David (1997) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, Second Edition ISBN 0-521-55967-7
  • Smyth, Herbert Weir (1920). Greek Grammar. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-36250-0.

External links

Search another word or see quiquiriquíon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature