Monday Metaphor: Onomatopoeia

Before delving into onomatopoeia, let’s talk about different ways to give variety to our writing. We do this by employing figures of speech. This happens when we deviate from simple exposition. Exposition is an excellent way to provide description, explanation, and clarification. For that we use words as they are defined in the dictionary. But when we deviate from the literal meaning, we are using them as figures of speech or as Arthur Quinn says, figuring speech.(1)

Another general term meaning the same thing as figure of speech is “trope.”

Why should we want to use figures in our speech? For one thing, to sound different from other writers. Each writer has a voice, and for some writers, figuring speech comes naturally. Other reasons are: To create beauty. To convey to the reader the writer’s impressions, feelings, observations by comparing them to something the reader can relate to. To play with the language. Steven King says, “Writing is at its best—always, always, always—when it is a kind of inspired play for the writer.”(2)

Sometimes the analogy is explicit, as in metaphor. But there are many more ways to figure speech; the writer has at her disposal a banquet of choices to use as the work may require. Or not.

Onomatopoeia is one of the fun uses of words. In this case, we are giving the impression of sound. Sound words imitate the sound associated with what is named. BUZZ, says the bee. The kettle WHISTLES; the clock/bird says CUCKOO.

In Babysitting Sugarpaw, VS Grenier says, “SugarPaw poured Mama Bear’s favorite bubble bath into the tub. He played Sinbad the Sailor. Splish! Splash!”(3)

In Food Fight! I wrote: “The lid of my coffin creeeeeked! as I pushed it open and climbed out. The dungeon of the castle rang with a loud, “Aroooooo!” How could I sleep with my roommate howling? Believe me, sharing a room with a werewolf is no fun. But at least he lets me know when the sun has gone down each evening. I dusted the dirt from my robe and joined the line of classmates headed for the Academy lunchroom.”(4)

In Gum Fight at the Circle K Quick Stop, after Tiffany emerges from the store, I wrote: “Josh was so startled that he sucked all the air out of his bubble and it deflated with a “gussssh” and covered his chin. Ryan was very agitated but he kept blowing short bursts of air, whuu, whuu, whuu. With a POP, his bubble exploded over his face. More than their bubbles were flat. The boys had lost their cool.”(5)

Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale contains “The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.”(6)

In The Noisy Ghost by Diane Billeter, two girls are telling ghost stories. The narrator says, “‘There’s a full moon as Albert walks out of his house,’ I start out, ‘He’s going to the old house on the dead end road. Everyone know that house is haunted. Albert goes up the stairs and begins to open the front door when he hears a. . .’ Thump, thump, clank!”(7)

Sometimes the sound is more suggestive than overtly onomatopoetic and the creation of the sound is left up to the reader’s imagination, as in the continuation of the previous story: “Albert hears a crash and then a scream . . .”(7)

Whether human speech came about directly from attempting to recreate the sounds of nature or not (as is being debated by the linguistic community), onomatopoeia remains one of the favored uses of writers to add depth to their writings by including the sense of hearing.

(1) Quinn, Arthur. Figures of Speech.
(2) King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
(3) Grenier, VS. Babysitting Sugarpaw.
(4) Bockman, Barbara. Food Fight. LONG STORY SHORT
(5) Bockman, Barbara. Gum Fight at the Circle K Quick Stop. STORIES FOR CHILDREN MAGAZINE.
(6) Keats, John. Ode to a Nightingale.
(7) Billeter, Diane. The Noisy Ghost. CHARACTERS MAGAZINE.


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. J. Aday Kennedy
    Apr 25, 2011 @ 14:06:40

    I’m a lover of the onomatopoeia. In (BRRRT my new book the dragon farts fire (BRRRT ). In my first book the Pegasus trips & falls (CRASH). I think it helps the reader feel like their there.
    J. Aday Kennedy
    The Differently-Abled Writer & Speaker
    Children’s Author of Stella the Fire Farting Dragon (April 2010)


  2. Nancy
    Apr 25, 2011 @ 14:09:48

    Hi Barbara

    I love the sound and feel of the word Onomatopoeia as it rolls of the tongue. I can still remember the first time I heard it in English class. One of the coolest words ever!
    Great post



  3. Holly Owen
    Apr 25, 2011 @ 17:18:59

    It’s funny that you should start this Monday Metaphors blog because Maya has been learning about them in school, as well as onomatopoeia, simile, alliteration and hyperbole. What a fun way to get kids interested in the written word – and their parents too.


  4. Priya Iyengar
    Apr 25, 2011 @ 18:52:18

    Very interesting, Barbara. You have explained nuts and bolts of Onomatopoeia. I look forward for Mondays to learn a new thing.
    Keep writing.


  5. Janet Ann Collins
    Apr 25, 2011 @ 21:12:51

    I’ve always been fascinated by language and enjoy reading your posts on that subject.


  6. colleen rand
    Apr 26, 2011 @ 09:51:07

    Onomatopoeia is such a “big” word — it sounds like it should be a wave gentling a shore or something more extravagent than a language description. Your post makes its position as a “mere” language descriptor come to life vibrantly 🙂


  7. ccgevry
    Apr 26, 2011 @ 11:12:06

    Onomatopoeia is one of my favorite words. I just love saying it. Great post, Barb.


  8. Barbara Bockman
    Apr 27, 2011 @ 13:50:18

    I’m so glad all of you stopped by. Onomatopoeia (couldn’t they find room for a “u” in there? I think it should be spelled onumatopoeia!) is not only one of my favorite words, I love putting them into my work.

    If you haven’t already subscribed to this blog, you can do so by putting you email address in the place up on the right for that purpose and clickin on “sign me up.”

    Happy day to all of you.


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