17.4.13

Onomatopoeias


This month I'm participating in the A to Z Blogger's Challenge, found here. Every day of April (except for Sundays), we are posting a blog with the theme of A to Z.

O is for Onomatopoeia 




Today I wanted to talk about onomatopoeias (pronunciation: änəˌmatəˈpēə). If that's not a fun and totally underutilized word to say, I don't know what is.

An onomatopoeia is a word which sounds like what it is. Officially it is, "the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named." 

Many common onomatopoeias are animal sounds. Bzzz, oink, cuckoo, ribbit, meow, etc. All these are spellings of what the sound sounds like. Non-animal onomatopoeias would be snap, crack, sizzle, splat, tapping, rapping, etc. 

The nice thing about onomatopoeias is that they paint an immediate picture in your mind about the sound. What does "oink" suggest to you? You'd be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't think of a pig.


In literature, words like buzz, snap, sizzle, etc. are all used frequently. Like an animal sound, they immediately offer the reader a metal image of what is happening on the page, an auditory image if you will. If you read, "knocked," you're probably thinking of someone knocking on a door, or a branch knocking against the house. That's because of the onomatopoeia essence of the word.

These can be incredibly valuable words to choose when writing fiction. They can also be some of the most annoying.

Personally, when I'm deep into reading a book and dialogue or narrative is broken by a two word sentence of: "Knock-knock!" I find the entire paragraph skip-worthy. It jerks me from the story I'm reading in order to interject an unneeded "sound"--a sound which comes off as "telling." Not to say that onomatopoeias are not useful or never appropriate. In fact, that jerking from the story may be exactly what the author intends--as the character is jerked from their daily life by a knock, so are you jerked out of the story.

But personally, I'd rather read something like, "The knock on the door had me jumping out of my skin." You still read the onomatopoeia, but you aren't jerked from the story in order to do so. Instead, it gently informs you of the auditory image in your mind, and you feel the tremble running under the character's skin from her surprise.

What are your feelings about onomatopoeias? How do you prefer to read them?


Examples:

Onomatopoeias are used in some of the most well-known poems and by the most well-known authors.

Nursery Rhyme Examples:
Baa Baa Black Sheep

Old MacDonald had a farm
Ee i ee i oh!
And on that farm he had some chickens,
Ee i ee i oh!
With a cluck-cluck here,
And a cluck-cluck there

Poetry Examples:
Edgar Allen Poe
The Bells

Hear the sledges with the bells - 
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells - 
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.


Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Morte D'Arthur

"I heard the ripple washing in the reeds, [5]
  And the wild water lapping on the crag."


~I.E.