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.