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

Essential Meaning of onomatopoeia

technical : the creation of words that imitate natural sounds Buzz and hiss are examples of onomatopoeia.

Full 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

Other Words from onomatopoeia

onomatopoeic \ ˌä-​nə-​ˌmä-​tə-​ˈpē-​ik How to pronounce onomatopoeia (audio) , -​ˌma-​ \ or onomatopoetic \ ˌä-​nə-​ˌmä-​tə-​pō-​ˈe-​tik How to pronounce onomatopoeia (audio) , -​ˌma-​ \ adjective
onomatopoeically \ ˌä-​nə-​ˌmä-​tə-​ˈpē-​ə-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce onomatopoeia (audio) , -​ˌma-​ \ or onomatopoetically \ ˌä-​nə-​ˌmä-​tə-​pō-​ˈe-​ti-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce onomatopoeia (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 Reading his writing can be kind of like taking a psychedelic — a literary onomatopoeia. Washington Post, 23 July 2021 The son remembers riding somewhere with his father as a young boy, with Wills teaching him through a ditty how to spell the word onomatopoeia, which the son can still spell 60 years later thanks to that experience. Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 23 July 2021 His names of characters are like onomatopoeia -- like Miss Trunchbull, Bruce Bogtrotter and Amanda Thripp. cleveland, 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, 18 Sep. 2019 This is essentially the quantification of onomatopoeia, like in the Adam West Batman series. Matt Simon, WIRED, 24 May 2018 Still another another found an appropriate onomatopoeia for the occasion. Cady Lang, Time, 16 Mar. 2018 An onomatopoeia doesn't prove anything, except that maybe Gomez is a fan of Charli XCX. Christopher Rosa, Glamour, 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, 12 Dec. 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 28 Nov. 2021.

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More Definitions for onomatopoeia


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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