onomatopoeia

noun

on·​o·​mato·​poe·​ia ˌä-nə-ˌmä-tə-ˈpē-ə How to pronounce onomatopoeia (audio)
-ˌma-
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
onomatopoeic adjective
or onomatopoetic
onomatopoeically adverb
or onomatopoetically

Did you know?

English speakers have only used the word onomatopoeia since the 1500s, but people have been creating words inspired by the sounds heard around them for much longer. It may not surprise you to learn that fizz, jingle, toot, and pop are onomatopoeic in origin, but did you know the same is true of bounce, tinker, and blimp? Boom! Now you do. In fact, the presence of so many imitative words in language spawned the linguistic bowwow theory, which postulates that language originated in the imitating of natural sounds. While it’s highly unlikely that onomatopoeia is the sole impetus for human language, it certainly made a mark, which is nothing to sneeze at.

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.
Recent Examples on the Web Tom Wolfe is a literary icon for many reasons, not least his white suits and liberal use of onomatopoeia. Seyward Darby, Longreads, 9 Jan. 2024 To see the onomatopoeias appear in tiny bursts in the grid was the goal. Sam Corbin, New York Times, 4 Feb. 2024 Instead of the traditional hip-hop group format of trading verses, Migos basically traded syllables, punctuating each other’s verses and flows with shouted interjections, ad-libs, onomatopoeia or just noises. Jem Aswad, Variety, 24 May 2023 Instead, the animal life represented here coexists peacefully in a land of idioms and the occasional onomatopoeia. Sam Corbin, New York Times, 30 Apr. 2023 The bullet is a grim onomatopoeia for itself. Adrian Matejka, New York Times, 15 July 2021 Mime and onomatopoeia were part of the drill. Dan Greene, The New Yorker, 24 May 2021 Thousands of fireflies, called kelip-kelip in Malaysia — their name is a sort of visual onomatopoeia for their twinkling — can settle on riverside trees. Joshua Sokol, Quanta Magazine, 20 Sep. 2022 His take may sound like an extreme read on a silly onomatopoeia. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, 28 July 2022

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'onomatopoeia.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

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

First Known Use

circa 1553, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of onomatopoeia was circa 1553

Podcast

Dictionary Entries Near onomatopoeia

Cite this Entry

“Onomatopoeia.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/onomatopoeia. Accessed 18 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition

onomatopoeia

noun
on·​o·​mato·​poe·​ia ˌän-ə-ˌmat-ə-ˈpē-(y)ə How to pronounce onomatopoeia (audio)
1
: the naming of a thing or action by imitation of natural sounds (as "buzz" or "hiss")
2
: the use of words whose sound suggests the sense (as for poetic effect)
onomatopoeic adjective
or onomatopoetic

More from Merriam-Webster on onomatopoeia

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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