Merriam Webster Word of the Day: Onomatopoeia

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is onomatopoeia. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Onomatopoeia means “the creation or use of words that imitate sounds.” It can also refer to the words themselves.

// The poem “Cynthia in the Snow” by Gwendolyn Brooks is famous for its beautiful onomatopoeia, capturing in vivid language snow’s many and distinct aural effects.


“[John] Madden’s influence, steeped in Everyman sensibilities and studded with wild gesticulations and paroxysms of onomatopoeia—wham! doink! whoosh!—made the N.F.L. more interesting, more relevant and more fun for over 40 years.” — Ben Shpigel, The New York Times, 28 Dec. 2021

Did You Know?

English speakers have only used the word onomatopoeia since the 1500s, but people have been creating words inspired by the sounds heard around them for much longer. It may not surprise you to learn that fizzjingletoot, and pop are onomatopoeic in origin, but did you know the same is true of bouncetinker, and blimp? Boom! Now you do. In fact, the presence of so many imitative words in language spawned the linguistic bowwow theory, which postulates that language originated in the imitating of natural sounds. While it’s highly unlikely that onomatopoeia is the sole impetus for human language, it certainly made a mark, which is nothing to sneeze at.

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