What does a zipper have in common with a buzz saw? Or flip-flops with a tuk-tuk? (A tuk-tuk was the auto rickshaw we rode in Bangkok last fall. Not the best transport in a traffic-congested city. Noise clogged the scenic view. And sucking up fumes amidst the taxis, scooters, and trucks. Argh for one’s health, angst on crowded streets.)
But I digress. Zipper and Buzz saw. Flip-flops and tuk-tuk. Tsk-tsk, too.
All of them are named after the sounds they make. Of course, the same sound can be interpreted differently by different people. But this is how we English speakers interpret the sounds made by various objects or actions.
Ask me about the final exam in acoustic phonetics, a must-pass course as I earned my speech-language pathology degrees. We had to successfully hypothesize-and-support why English speakers think cats say “meow”..
Oh heck, I forgot all that, so in this blog let’s examine onomatopoeia, which is the formation of a word from the sound it represents (from Greek onomatopoiia, literally “making of words”). We don’t have to make this stuff up. It’s already been done: by Nature and it’s human nature to overlay phonics…as well as meaning.
Comic book characters thrive on sound effect words. Writer-artist Roy Crane, the creator of Captain Easy and Buz Sawyer, pioneered the use of onomatopoeic in comics, adding “bam,” “pow” and “wham” to spiff and zing up his drawings. Crane had fun, inventing the occasional “ker-splash” or “lickety-wop” as well as standard words. We Boomers grew up on them, especially the boys…because we girls discovered teen magazines touting all about our teen idols. The Beatles!
Advertisers utilize onomatopoeia as a mnemonic, so we will remember their products and buy-buy-buy. Do you recall Alka-Seltzer’s “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz. Oh, what a relief it is!”. Quick – I’ll bet several jingles run through your mind, even if you don’t recall this Boomer-aged ad! Rhythm and rhyme clings in memory and sells, sells, sells.
Every kid knows Rice Krispies make a “snap, crackle, pop” when one pours on milk. Can you hear it now?
The sound of the container opening and closing gives Tic-Tac its name. Bazinga! So simple. Am I blowing your mind?
My writing is peppered, salted, and spiced with onomatopoeia. They suit my kitschy style and serve my adoration of sound. And, of course, I am a word nerd.
Still, by the end of this, you’d think that I’d have the spelling of onomatopoeia memorized. Not. Zot!