What’s that sound? Fun with onomatopoeia

2 min read

Bang, pow, pop! These are examples of onomatopoeia. If you need a refresher from elementary school, onomatopoeia is the formation of a word that imitates or suggests the sound the word makes. For example, a bee humming by your head literally makes a “bzzzzz” sound, so we use the word buzz to describe it. There are hundreds of examples of onomatopoeia out there, but here are some of our favorite sounds that are fun to say.


This word stems from the Latin word “ululo" — meaning to howl. That’s exactly what ululation sounds like — a high-pitched trill. You can make this sound by moving your tongue and uvula back and forth.


Just saying this word out loud is reminiscent of the sensation of tiny gas bubbles lightly sprinkling your face and adding a dash of effervescence to any conversation. There’s a reason why Alka-Seltzer's “Plop. Fizz. Clink." tagline was so successful!


Little kids have a blast trying out this word when playing with toy trucks and cars and we can’t blame them. Coined in the 1960s when horsepower was really starting to take off, this is one example of onomatopoeia that’ll get your engines running.


There are many animals and birds named after the sounds they make, but a chickadee is one of the more adorable examples. If you’ve never heard one, give this video a quick listen and you’ll hear the distinctive chick-a-dee-dee-dee chirp that gave this little wintering bird its name.


Speaking of animals, this example of onomatopoeia is applicable to just about every mammal in the cat family. Cats purr by using their larynx and diaphragm muscles when they’re happily relaxed and content (although on occasion, it can be because they’re upset or scared). Humans can’t really replicate a cat’s purr, so you’ll have to show your affection in other ways.


It’s the easiest melody to sing for anyone that’s had a doorbell. The simple two-part chime of "ding-dong" is incredibly recognizable. In music theory, it’s also what’s known as a descending major third in case you wanted to learn something new today.


This isn’t just a farmhouse stereotype. If you’ve ever been around a rooster, you know they happily wake up anyone in range with their joyful five-syllable call at sunrise. Even if you don’t love being up at the crack of dawn, you’ll recognize the rooster’s crow.


They might be annoying to deal with, but hiccups are undeniably fun to say. It’s one of the older forms of onomatopoeia out there and was originally spelled as hiccough in the 16th century. If you really want to test yourself, try saying hiccup while you have the hiccups.


Many parents end up calling their newborn babies “squishes” since they're quite squishy, but let’s not kid ourselves. It’s also because the word is so enjoyable to say.


There are a few examples of onomatopoeia that involve repeating or rhyming words (like flip-flop or choo-choo), but pitter-patter — a quick and light tapping sound — is particularly charming and adorable.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden/ Unsplash

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