on·​o·​mato·​poe·​ia | \ ˌä-nə-ˌmä-tə-ˈpē-ə How to pronounce onomatopoeia (audio) , -ˌma- \

Definition of onomatopoeia

1 : the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it (such as buzz, hiss) also : a word formed by onomatopoeia In comic books, when you see someone with a gun, you know it's only going off when you read the onomatopoeias. — Christian Marclay
2 : the use of words whose sound suggests the sense a study of the poet's onomatopoeia

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Other Words from onomatopoeia

onomatopoeic \ ˌä-​nə-​ˌmä-​tə-​ˈpē-​ik How to pronounce onomatopoeic (audio) , -​ˌma-​ \ or onomatopoetic \ ˌä-​nə-​ˌmä-​tə-​pō-​ˈe-​tik How to pronounce onomatopoetic (audio) , -​ˌma-​ \ adjective
onomatopoeically \ ˌä-​nə-​ˌmä-​tə-​ˈpē-​ə-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce onomatopoeically (audio) , -​ˌma-​ \ or onomatopoetically \ ˌä-​nə-​ˌmä-​tə-​pō-​ˈe-​ti-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce onomatopoetically (audio) , -​ˌma-​ \ adverb

Did You Know?

Onomatopoeia came into English via Late Latin and ultimately traces back to Greek onoma, meaning "name," and poiein, meaning "to make." ("Onoma" can be found in such terms as "onomastics," which refers to the study of proper names and their origins, while "poiein" gave us such words as "poem" and "poet.") English speakers have only used the word onomatopoeia since the mid-1500s, but people have been creating words from the sounds heard around them for much longer. In fact, the presence of so many imitative words in language spawned the linguistic Bowwow Theory, which postulates that language originated in imitation of natural sounds.

Examples of onomatopoeia in a Sentence

The term hiccup is an example of onomatopoeia — Fred Cicetti, Montague Reporter, 6 Mar. 2008 You might think it was an onomatopoeia of the sound a Frisbee makes as it moves through the air, but the name has been attributed for years to the Frisbie Pie Company of Bridgeport, Conn., which went out of business in 1958. — Mark Danna, Sports Illustrated, 11 May 1987 Buzz and hiss are examples of onomatopoeia.
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Recent Examples on the Web His names of characters are like onomatopoeia -- like Miss Trunchbull, Bruce Bogtrotter and Amanda Thripp. cleveland, "Beachwood Community Theater brings ‘Matilda’ to the stage," 20 Nov. 2019 Praised for his exceptional lyrical vocal style and for the complex rhythmic structure of his phrasing, Maelo incorporated greetings, religious chants, onomatopoeias, popular sayings, proverbs and aphorisms into his improvisations. Howard Reich, chicagotribune.com, "MacArthur Fellow Miguel Zenon digs deeply into music of Puerto Rico," 18 Sep. 2019 This is essentially the quantification of onomatopoeia, like in the Adam West Batman series. Matt Simon, WIRED, "Give the Robots Electronic Tongues," 24 May 2018 Still another another found an appropriate onomatopoeia for the occasion. Cady Lang, Time, "Dairy Truck Accident Serves As a Reminder to Us All About Spilled Milk," 16 Mar. 2018 An onomatopoeia doesn't prove anything, except that maybe Gomez is a fan of Charli XCX. Christopher Rosa, Glamour, "Selena Gomez Posted a Birthday Instagram About Justin Bieber, So Take That How You Will," 1 Mar. 2018 Surely there’s a mathematical brilliance at work whenever one of their goofy onomatopoeias ricochets satisfyingly off a high-hat. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, "The 10 Best Albums of 2017," 12 Dec. 2017 Certainly, good writing can benefit from a little onomatopoeia. Rachel Toor, New York Times, "How to Conquer the Admissions Essay," 2 Aug. 2017 Often, lead singer Danielle Haim breaks words into a cluster of onomatopoeias delivered rapid-fire, making sentences sound like tongue twisters even without alliteration. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, "The Familiar Novelty of Haim's New Album," 7 July 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'onomatopoeia.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of onomatopoeia

circa 1553, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for onomatopoeia

Late Latin, from Greek onomatopoiia, from onomat-, onoma name + poiein to make — more at poet

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Time Traveler for onomatopoeia

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The first known use of onomatopoeia was circa 1553

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Cite this Entry

“Onomatopoeia.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/onomatopoeia. Accessed 5 Dec. 2020.

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More Definitions for onomatopoeia


How to pronounce onomatopoeia (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of onomatopoeia

technical : the creation of words that imitate natural sounds


on·​o·​mato·​poe·​ia | \ ˌä-nə-ˌma-tə-ˈpē-ə How to pronounce onomatopoeia (audio) \

Kids Definition of onomatopoeia

: the forming of a word (as “buzz” or “hiss”) in imitation of a natural sound

More from Merriam-Webster on onomatopoeia

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about onomatopoeia

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