Onomatopoeia is a literary device that allows the author to form a word based on a certain sound. This is the process of naming an object or an action by using the sound’s vocal imitation. It originates from the Greek word “onomatopoiía,” which is translated as “making the words” and consists of two parts: “onoma” meaning “name” and “poiein” meaning “to make.” The term found its way to the English language approximately in 1570-1580, but onomatopoeia as a literary phenomenon started its existence much earlier. 

Onomatopoeia laid the foundation of the Bowwow linguistic theory, which states that language, in general, originated from the imitation of sounds of nature. This only proves how old this linguistic technique is.

While onomatopoeia has a broad meaning and use, it can take a more complicated form. Phanopoeia, which is widely used in poetry, is a type of onomatopoeia that is used not to describe the sound of a certain object but to depict its sense. For example, in the poem “Snake” by D. Lawrence, the author illustrates the snake without even mentioning it. Instead, he uses a lot of “hissing” and somewhat whistling sounds, for instance, “slackness” and “fissure,” plus a special line length and a text rhythm.

The role of onomatopoeia in literary pieces is rather specific. While words are supposed to explain to the reader the situation and illustrate what is happening, onomatopoeia serves to illustrate the sounds and to help the reader create a more vivid picture in their head. What makes this tool effective is that onomatopoeia always aims to affect the reader’s senses, even when the reader doesn’t really understand the onomatopoeic words.

Using onomatopoeia allows the author to add more emphasis to the text. It’s an effective way to stir the reader’s feelings, to present a certain idea in a powerful and vivid way, and to help the reader give an empathic response.

A lot of authors, especially poets, use onomatopoeia for the sake of the text’s overall beauty and its general atmosphere. Onomatopoeia is a great tool, which allows the author to develop the text’s rhythm and alliteration. It also makes the author’s job easier because there’s no need to explain specific meanings and sounds. With the help of onomatopoeia, the author doesn’t have to add any extra terms to the literary work, thus preserving its size, style, and tempo.

For example, instead of describing how someone opens a bottle of champagne and the way the cork shoots out, the author can just say “Pop!”. This makes the writing more flavored, clearer, easier for readers to understand, and efficient. 

The most popular poetical tool, onomatopoeia allows writers to make a great impact on the reader without using too many words. Edgar Allan Poe implemented this technique in his poem called “The Bells,” where he used the words “tinkle,” “jingling,” and “tintinnabulation” to create a special mood and tone of the poem and describe the bells shortly and clearly.

Shakespeare was another author who used onomatopoeia in his brilliant works. One of the examples is his play called “The Tempest,” where he sets the scene and creates the ambiance using the words like “bow-wow,” “cock-a-diddle-dow,” etc. This way, the text becomes livelier. This also proves that onomatopoeia, being a simple device that doesn’t imply using complex words and literary terms, can be used in the works of any complexity and purpose.

While onomatopoeia is effectively used in poetry, it can also be implemented in prose. There are many bright examples in the works of E. Hemingway, for example, “dropping clicks” and “clack on stone.” This proves that onomatopoeia can create a rhythm not only in poetry but in prose texts as well. It also helps the writer directly appeal to the reader’s senses.

Onomatopoeia is a universal tool, which is used not only in literature but in daily conversations too. Sometimes we implement this linguistic technique without even realizing it. The brightest example is the word “ahem,” which illustrates the sound of someone clearing their throat. Oftentimes, people use “ahem” instead of clearing the throat for real to express certain feelings, like irritation or boredom. “Boo-hoo” is another example, which depicts the sound of crying and can be used in real life for a dramatic or comic effect. 

Sometimes onomatopoeia hides in the names of ordinary objects that people use every day. The footwear’s name “flip-flops” is a perfect example of that. This name of the footwear illustrates the sound they make when someone’s walking in them.

The Summary
Onomatopoeia is an effective linguistic tool, which implies the usage of the word that vocally imitates a certain sound. It derives from the Greek term “onomatopoiía” and translates as “to make words.” It’s an old technique, which is used in both literature and everyday conversations.

It serves as a simplifier of the text and allows the author to describe a certain situation and to set the scene by using the minimal number of words. Onomatopoeia helps writers create a certain rhythm and a tone of the text. It’s also an effective way to affect the reader’s senses and emphasize certain parts of the text.