Do You Hear What I Mean? Must Be Onomatopoeia

Georgie Girl, our dog, was a master of onomatopoeia.

We lived near Roger Williams Hospital in Providence, and our street was a popular route for ambulances. As they careened past the house with their sirens blaring, Georgie would race to the window, throw back her head, and let out a long “Wooooooooooo… Wooooooooooo…”

She was being onomatopoetic: her howls (in effect, her words) imitated the ambulance wails. My brothers and I loved it. Our friends cracked up.

Onomatopoeia derives from the Greek onomatopoiia, “the making of a name or word” in imitation of a sound associated with the thing being named. Our language teems with such words. Just ask any toddler: “Baa, baa black sheep…” Or reader of Dr. Seuss: “Mr. Brown can moo! Can you?”  Or Batman fan: “Bam! Kaboom! Whack!” 

Onomatopoetic words are fun. They make sense and animate our writing. Ducks quack. Teeth chatter. People hiccup. Fires crackle. Tires screech. famous ad campaign sold a remedy for indigestion with the jingle, “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh, what a relief it is!” In his poem “The Bells,” Edgar Allen Poe describes funeral bells as tolling, moaning, and groaning. Onomatopoeia pleases our ears, our eyes, and ultimately, our brains as we gain understanding.

And now, even this post gets in on the onomatopoetic act, as I move my cursor over the “Publish” button: click.

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