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What is Onomatopoeia? Literary Term: Meaning, usage, examples

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You know you are familiar with Onomatopoeia! In fact, you use it every day. All those times  when you said “Boom!”, “Wham!”, “pow!”, “biff’ or something like that, you were unknowingly using Onomatopoeia.

Onomatopoeia is a figure of sound, defined as a word that imitates the natural sound of the object or action. It creates a sound effect that imitates the described thing, making the reading more expressive and interesting. 

Still not clear with what an onomatopoeia is? 

What does Onomatopoeia mean?

Imagine the sound of a cow ‘moo’ in your head. Now,  while reading nursery rhymes such as

Old MacDonald had a farm

Ee I ee I oh

And on his farm, he had some cows

Ee I ee I oh

With a moo-moo here

And a moo-moo there

Here a moo, there a moo

Everywhere a moo-moo 

Are you able to relate the sound effect of “moo” with the animal sound of cows? That’s how an onomatopoeia word imitates the sound of the object or action referring to it.

So, while reading the above-mentioned nursery rhyme, if you pronounce the word moo, it will mimic the sound of a cow.

Don’t mistake the concept of these words with sounds of animals and collision only, the sound of water, air, and vocal also fall under this category. 

For example:

Shush! Don’t speak too loud.

Relates to the sound of the voice, and while reading you can mimic the action for the word, ‘shush’. Hence it makes the sentence more expressive.

But when described like

Don’t speak too loud.

It’s a dull reading sentence with not much of an engaging impact. Hence, an Onomatopoeia word is the aural effect that mimics the visual thing making a sentence more expressive. 

How to pronounce the word “Onomatopoeia”?

Before, moving on to the meaning of Onomatopoeia, let’s learn its pronunciation. As it’s a long word, pronouncing it correctly might be difficult to achieve. So, read it like this on-uh-mat-uh–pee–uh. 

Where did the figure of speech “Onomatopoeia” come from?

Mostly, used in comics to describe the sound more effectively and poems to make the rhyming better.

In English, the word Onomatopoeia came into existence through Late Latin. It traces back to greek where onoma means “name”, and poiein means “to create”. 

Since the mid -1500s, the word was commonly used by English speakers. Though studies indicate that people have been making words from the sounds, they are listening around them for much longer.

You can encounter the usage of the words in the literature

Tempest By William Shakespeare

Come Down, O Maid By Alfred Lord Tennyson

For Whom the Bell Tolls By Ernest Hemingway

The Marvelous Toy By Tom Paxton

And the usage of Onomatopoeic words continues.

Onomatopoeic words

The words that mimic the sound effect of the described things are Onomatopoeia. They are figures of sound not the figure of speech. The words can be grouped as per their usage.

1. Water sounds – bloop, Splash, spray, sprinkle, squirt, dribble, drip, drizzle, etc

2. Vocal sounds – giggle, Growl, grunt, gurgle, mumble, murmur, bawl, chatter, etc.

3. Collision sounds – bam, bang, clang, clank, clap, clatter, click, clink, ding, jingle, screech, slap, thud, etc.

4. Air sounds – flutter, fisst, swoosh, waft, whiff, whoosh, whisper, etc.

5. Animal sounds – bark, bray, buzz, cheep, chirp, cuckoo, hiss, meow, etc.

Examples of Onomatopoeia in a sentence

The sentences where the list of Onomatopoeia words can be used are:

Turn off the dripping water tap.

Shelly and Liza started giggling at midnight.

Ron clicked a photograph of his favorite spot.

The watchman knocked on the door with a loud thud.

The rustling pages of her notebook kept me awake.

The barking dogs made the noise for the whole night.

Functions of Onomatopoeia

The significance of using the Onomatopoeic word is to create an effect on readers’ minds, bounding them to enter the world developed by the writer in their piece of writing. When not used in a sentence, words will just illustrate what is happening without many expressions. 

The powerful effect the Onomatopoeic word creates on the reader’s senses is the beauty of its functions. 

Difference between Onomatopoeia and Interjection

Don’t confuse it with interjections, they are just a sudden response out of excitement, such as “ouch” or “wow”. Onomatopoeia and Interjection are two different concepts. Interjections are figures of speech, and Onomatopoeia is not. Interjections don’t imitate sounds, but sometimes some of the Onomatopoeic can be used as interjections. 

Words like buzz or boom always mimic the noises of the object or action they refer to.

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Jui Shirvalkar-Chandurkar

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