O is for Onomatopoeia

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

Onomatopoeia means a word formed from a sound associated with what it names.

Nursery rhymes used the device extensively. “Baa Baa Black Sheep” and all of the animal sounds from “Old McDonald’s Farm” are examples. Every time a bell “rings,” “chimes,” “clinks,” “clatters,” “clicks,” or “clangs,” the reader experiences the sound and hears its echo through the wording. “Ding Dong Dell, Pussy’s down the well.” “Beep Beep Beep” goes the horn on the bus, and its wipers go “swish.”

The psychedelic song “What Does the Fox Say?” by Ylves used onomatopoeia through most of the verses, to humorous effect. In “The Sound of Music,” the Von Trapp children sing their farewells after noting the funny little clock saying, “cuckoo.” The first song in the musical “The Music Man” “bickers” and “rat-a-tats” to a beat evoking a train.

Poets often use onomatopoeia in their verse. For example, read Langston Hughes’ “The Weary Blues” to hear the “thump thump” of feet or Edgar Allen Poe’s “Raven” “rapping and tapping.” Alfred Lord Tennyson  in his “Come Down O Maid” uses the linguistic device in the lines “The moan of doves…” and “the murmuring of innumerable bees.”

So if a dog’s growl makes you jump and bump into a wall, crushing and popping a balloon, or if you slap a scallywag who sneezed, “achoo!” right on your newborn baby and then belched without apology; if a butterfly flutters near and bees buzz, or a mouse squeaks and makes you “eek!” as you leap with a clatter atop a stool, you hear examples of onomatopoeia.

With that, I will conclude, closing the door on this discussion, Bang, until it clicks shut.