What’s that Sound? Onomatopoeia!

What is Onomatopoeia?

From the Greek and Latin “onomatopoiia,” meaning to word-making. Onomatopoeia is a figure of speech that uses words to imitate sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to. Onomatopoeia uses the readers’ senses to draw them into the story the words are trying to tell. Onomatopoeia uses vivid imagery to create the desired effect and engage the readers’ visual and auditory senses. This tool is most commonly used and recognized in comics and manga.

How to pronounce Onomatopoeia?


When to use Onomatopoeia?

Aside from being just plain fun, writers use onomatopoeia when they want to appeal to the senses of the reader. To do so, writers use words to create vivid and descriptive sound effects in their writing. Word choices usually represent animal sounds, noise made by machinery, or natural phenomena.

How to use Onomatopoeia?

  1. Use vivid imagery to set the scene for a situation that requires a description of audible sound.
  2. Accurately use a word to describe the sound, or if you can’t think of one, make up a word. Examples include: Bam!, Kablowey!, Poof, Hiss, and Woof!

Examples of Onomatopoeia in Literature 📚

    1. The Tempest, William Shakespeare

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

    2. ”The Raven,” Edgar Allen Poe

    “While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping
    As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
    ‘Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, ‘tapping at my chamber door – Only this and nothing more.”

    Examples of Onomatopoeia in Children’s Books 🧸

    • “Pop! Goes the Weasel” – This is a popular nursery rhyme and children’s song that has been around since the 19th century. This description is  often used to describe the sound of a balloon bursting or of a toy popping out of a box, like a jack-in-the-box.
    •  Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp! (2012) by Wynton Marsalis and illustrated by Paul Rogers is an homage to onomatopoeia as detailed by this example:

      “Our back door squeeeaks. / A nosy mouse eek-eek-eeeks! / It’s also how my sister’s saxophone sometimes spee . . . . eeaks.”
    • And never forget the classic, Old MacDonald had a Farm:

    “Old MacDonald had a farm,
    Ee i ee i oh!
    And on that farm he had some chickens,
    Ee i ee i oh!
    With a cluck-cluck here,
    And a cluck-cluck there
    Here a cluck, there a cluck,
    Everywhere a cluck-cluck
    Old MacDonald had a farm
    Ee i ee i oh!”

    Examples of Onomatopoeia in Songs 🎧

    • “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” – Song of the South (1946)
    • “Boom Boom Pow” – The Black Eyed Peas (2009)
    • “Bang Bang” – Nancy Sinatra (1966)
    • “Whoomp! (There It Is)” – Tag Team (1993)
    •  “Yakety Yak” – The Coasters (1958)

    Examples of Onomatopoeia in Poetry ✍🏽

    1. “Morte D’Arthur,” Alfred Lord Tennyson

    “I heard the ripple washing in the reeds,
    And the wild water lapping on the crag.”

    2. “The Bells,” Edgar Allan Poe

    “Oh, the bells, bells, bells!
    What a tale their terror tells
    Of Despair!
    How they clang, and clash, and roar!”

    3. “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” Robert Browning

    “There was a rustling that seemed like a bustling
    Of merry crowds justling at pitching and hustling,
    Small feet were pattering, wooden shoes clattering,
    Little hands clapping and little tongues chattering,
    And, like fowls in a farm-yard when barley is scattering…”

    Examples of Onomatopoeia in Movies 🎥

    An Explanation of Onomatopoeia in Film, TV, and Movies

    Noteworthy inclusions:

    2. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

    2. Batman, (1966)


    Onomatopoeia in Comics, Manga, and Anime

    In comics, manga, and anime, onomatopoeia is a popular form of expression. Authors and illustrators often work together to create graphic, descriptive artwork and weave the sound descriptors into the artwork.

    A fun Manga Rap explaining Japanese Onomatopoeia


    Examples of Onomatopoeia in Advertising 📺

    • “Snap, Crackle, Pop” – Kellogg’s Rice Krispies
    • “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz” – Alka-Seltzer
    • “Quack, Quack” – Aflac Insurance
    • “Tweet, Tweet” – Twitter
    • “Meow” – The Meow Mix jingle first released in 1974

    See Also …

    Personification – the attribution of human or human-like characteristics to a non-human object or thing. May also be the representation of a person, animal, or object embodying the concept of a quality, concept, or thing.