noun on·o·mato·poe·ia \ ˌä-nə-ˌmä-tə-ˈpē-ə , -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


play \ˌä-nə-ˌmä-tə-ˈpē-ik, -ˌma-\ or onomatopoetic play \ˌä-nə-ˌmä-tə-pō-ˈe-tik, -ˌma-\ adjective


play \ˌä-nə-ˌmä-tə-ˈpē-ə-k(ə-)lē, -ˌma-\ or onomatopoetically play \ˌä-nə-ˌmä-tə-pō-ˈe-ti-k(ə-)lē, -ˌma-\ adverb

onomatopoeia was our Word of the Day on 04/17/2018. Hear the podcast!

Examples of onomatopoeia in a Sentence

  1. The term hiccup is an example of onomatopoeia —Fred CicettiMontague Reporter6 Mar. 2008
  2. 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 DannaSports Illustrated11 May 1987
  3. Buzz and hiss are examples of onomatopoeia.

Recent Examples of onomatopoeia from the Web

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.

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.

Origin and Etymology of onomatopoeia

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

Other Grammar and Linguistics Terms

ONOMATOPOEIA Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of onomatopoeia for English Language Learners

  • : the creation of words that imitate natural sounds

ONOMATOPOEIA Defined for Kids


noun on·o·mato·poe·ia \ ˌä-nə-ˌma-tə-ˈpē-ə \

Definition of onomatopoeia for Students

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

Learn More about onomatopoeia

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up onomatopoeia? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!


excessive admiration or flattery

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Difficult Spelling Words Quiz

  • alphabet-pasta-spelling-help
  • Which is the correct spelling?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!