All terms

What is Onomatopoeia?

Words that sound like the noise they represent.

Sound Effects in Print: The Joy of Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is a fun and useful tool in creative writing, allowing authors to heighten imagery and engage readers on a sensory level. With its Greek roots in "making a name" or "word creation," onomatopoeia refers to the use of words that sound like the sounds they are describing, such as "buzz," "hiss," and "meow."

Incorporating onomatopoeic words into your writing adds an extra layer of vividness to descriptions, particularly in scenes involving noise or commotion. A writer could describe the sound of a race car engine as a "vroom" rather than simply saying it was loud. By using these words, readers can more vividly imagine the scene and become more immersed in the story.

While onomatopoeia is most often associated with sound, it can also refer to words that resemble other sensory experiences, such as "sizzle" or "glitter." Writers can creatively experiment with different types of onomatopoeia to bring their prose to life and create a more engaging reader experience. Remember to use these sound effects wisely and sparingly to avoid overdoing it and detracting from the impact they can have when used effectively.

Zap! Pow! Onomatopoeia in Action

Onomatopoeia has been used in literature to create a vivid sensory experience for readers through sound effects. Here are two examples of how this technique has been used:

The Bells by Edgar Allan Poe

In this famous poem, Poe uses onomatopoeia to create a haunting, eerie effect. The bells are described with different sound words as they go from joyful to melancholic until finally becoming a funeral knell: "How they clang, and clash, and roar! / What a horror they outpour / On the bosom of the palpitating air! / Yet the ear, it fully knows / By the twanging, / And the clanging, / How the danger ebbs and flows; / Yet the ear distinctly tells / In the jangling, / And the wrangling, / How the danger sinks and swells," (Stanza III).

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Kerouac's use of onomatopoeia in On the Road immerses readers in the sounds of the city streets and nightlife. His descriptions bring the setting to life through the use of sensory experience: "...the "dwee-hoo" of taxis, trucks, and buses blasting their ukelele horns; the yellows and greens and reds of traffic signals, the sudden swell of neon; the sudden glare of lighted windows."