Words That Sound Like Sounds: Onomatopoeia Sizzles!

Great word Onomatopoeia, isn’t it?

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines the word as “the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named (e.g. cuckoo, sizzle)”.  Put another way, words that sound like sounds.  I have always been deeply moved by Wilfred Owen’s line in the First World War poem Anthem for Doomed Youth:  “the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle“.

This website is dedicated to the beauty and meaning of words.  The former is of course in the eye of the beholder while meaning is supposedly to be determined by the reader or listener and not the writer.  I am more concerned with the effect of words, what they conjure up in our imaginations rather than their literal meanings.

There is no way that the subject matter of Anthem for Doomed Youth is beautiful, but there is beauty in how “stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle” sounds.  The alliteration and onomatopoeic effect which it creates gives us that pleasure.

And there are lots more words that sound like sounds – sizzle, tweet, whizz, zoom for example and lots more – but I am more interested in the music and elegance that words project and the images they convey to you, the listener-reader.

I think of how Schweppes have used their name onomatopoeically to conjure up the sound of a tonic water bottle cap being twisted to release that “ssshhh” sound, but more intriguingly for me is the word that is associated with that ssshhh:  effervescence.  That’s a word where you can hear that fizz and see the bubbles.  Even more so in the pouring of Champagne.


So cheers and we’ll add effervescence to our Word List.


5 thoughts on “Words That Sound Like Sounds: Onomatopoeia Sizzles!

  1. Jackie

    Loved reading your thoughts on Onomatopoeia. I have just spent two years in Singapore teaching English and it is interesting trying to convey this idea to children when English is their second or third language. I really enjoyed the way you made the association to advertising. There is so much to explore in this topic and so many poems and stories that used this idea to great effect. This is one for children that I really enjoy transferring the language to non melodic instruments. Thanks my site is for children so hope you don’t mind me adding this flavour. Best wishes Jackie

    When the wind blows
    The quiet things speak.
    Some whisper, some clang,
    Some creak.

    Grasses swish
    Treetops sigh.
    Flags slap
    and snap at the sky.
    Wires on poles
    whistle and hum.
    Ashcans roll.
    Windows drum.

    When the wind goes-
    the quiet things
    are quiet again.

  2. Ed

    Hi Adrian,
    Onomatopoeia, wow what a mouthful. Almost sounds like some of the Japanese I here everyday. I had never heard of this before so now I’ll add it to my vocabulary. Thanks

  3. Eoinmc

    A common expression used (in my part of the world) for heavy rain was ‘It’s lashing rain’. However, remember as my son’s vocabulary was developing he would say ‘it’s splashing rain’ which I think actually sounds better. Both are examples of onomatopoeia, but ever since then I like to say ‘it’s splashing rain’ instead of ‘lashing’ – except on dry days of course.

  4. Peggy Menke

    Hello, Adrian. I’m 62 years old and I love learning new things. Thank you so much for introducing me to onomatopoeia, learning new words are great for the mind. Thank you for sharing!


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