1 : the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it (such as buzz, hiss)
2 : the use of words whose sound suggests the sense
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.
"The 'whiz'—or is it the 'whoosh,' or maybe 'sh-sh-sh-sh-sh'?—of an ace being served is described … by rival tennis players in the opening moments of Anna Ziegler's 'The Last Match.' The speakers concede, though, that an onomatopoeia doesn't do the job of explaining what it's like to have a meteoric ball hurtling past your ears, shattering your hopes if not the sound barrier." — Ben Brantley, The New York Times, 26 Oct. 2017
"[James] Chapman pointed out that what looks like variation in onomatopoeia is sometimes simply a rearranging of discrete sounds: clap clap in English becomes plec plec in Portuguese." — Uri Friedman, The Atlantic, 27 Nov. 2015
Test Your Vocabulary with M-W Quizzes
Word Family Quiz
What adjective is derived from Greek onoma and means "having or known by various names"?VIEW THE ANSWER
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