Snap, Crackle, Pop: Definition and Examples of Onomatopoeia

A cat hissing
The word "hiss" is an example of an onomatopoeia.

Dawid Gabarkiewicz / EyeEm / Getty Images

Onomatopoeia is the use of words that imitate the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to (such as hiss or murmur). It can also include made-up words or simply a series of letters, such as zzzzzz to represent a person sleeping or snoring.

The adjective is onomatopoeic or onomatopoetic. An "onomatope" is a particular word that imitates the sound it denotes.

Onomatopoeia is sometimes called a figure of sound rather than a figure of speech. As Malcolm Peet and David Robinson point out in "Leading Questions":

"Onomatopoeia is a fortunate by-product of meaning; few words and relatively few arrangements of words have sounds which are meaningful in themselves"

Onomatopoeia is heard throughout the world, though different languages may use very different sounding words to represent the same sounds.


From the Greek, onoma "name" and poiein "to make, or to "make names."



Also Known As:

echo word, echoism

Examples and Observations

"Chug, chug, chug. Puff, puff, puff. Ding-dong, ding-dong. The little train rumbled over the tracks."
— "Watty Piper" [Arnold Munk], "The Little Engine That Could," 1930
"Brrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinng! An alarm clock clanged in the dark and silent room."
— Richard Wright, "Native Son," 1940
"I'm getting married in the morning!
Ding dong! the bells are gonna chime."
— Lerner and Loewe, "Get Me to the Church on Time." "My Fair Lady," 1956
"Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is."
— slogan of Alka Seltzer, United States
"Plink, plink, fizz, fizz"
— slogan of Alka Seltzer, United Kingdom
"Two steps down, I heard that pressure-equalizing pop deep in my ears. Warmth hit my skin; sunlight shone through my closed eyelids; I heard the shat-HOOSH, shat-HOOSH of the weaving flats."
— Stephen King, "11/22/63." Scribner, 2011
"'Woop! Woop! That's the sound of da police,' KRS-One famously chants on the hook of 'Sound of da Police' from 1993's "Return of the Boombap." The unmistakable sound he makes in place of the police siren is an example of onomatopoeia, the trope that works by exchanging the thing itself for a linguistic representation of the sound it makes."
— Adam Bradley, "Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop." BasicCivitas, 2009
"Flora left Franklin’s side and went to the one-armed bandits spread along one whole side of the room. From where she stood it looked like a forest of arms yanking down levers. There was a continuous clack, clack, clack of levers, then a click, click, click of tumblers coming up. Following this was a metallic poof sometimes followed by the clatter of silver dollars coming down through the funnel to land with a happy smash in the coin receptacle at the bottom of the machine."
— Rod Serling, "The Fever." "Stories from the Twilight Zone," 2013
"Hark, hark!
The watch-dogs bark!
Hark, hark! I hear
The strain of strutting chanticleer
Cry, 'Cock-a-diddle-dow!'"
— Ariel in William Shakespeare's "The Tempest," Act One, scene 2
"Onomatopoeia every time I see ya
My senses tell me hubba
And I just can't disagree.
I get a feeling in my heart that I can't describe. ...
It's sort of whack, whir, wheeze, whine
Sputter, splat, squirt, scrape
Clink, clank, clunk, clatter
Crash, bang, beep, buzz
Ring, rip, roar, retch
Twang, toot, tinkle, thud
Pop, plop, plunk, pow
Snort, snuck, sniff, smack
Screech, splash, squish, squeak
Jingle, rattle, squeal, boing
Honk, hoot, hack, belch."
— Todd Rundgren, "Onomatopoeia." "Hermit of Mink Hollow," 1978
"Klunk! Klick! Every trip"
— U.K. promotion for seatbelts
"[Aredelia] found Starling in the warm laundry room, dozing against the slow rump-rump of a washing machine."
—Thomas Harris, "Silence of the Lambs," 1988
Jemimah: It's called Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Truly Scrumptious: That's a curious name for a motorcar.
Jemimah: But that's the sound it makes. Listen.
It's saying chitty chitty, chitty chitty, chitty chitty, chitty chitty, chitty chitty, bang bang! chitty chitty . ...
— "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," 1968
"Bang! went the pistol,
Crash! went the window
Ouch! went the son of a gun.
I don't want to see ya
Speaking in a foreign tongue."
— John Prine, "Onomatopoeia." "Sweet Revenge," 1973
"He saw nothing and heard nothing but he could feel his heart pounding and then he heard the clack on stone and the leaping, dropping clicks of a small rock falling."
— Ernest Hemingway, "For Whom the Bell Tolls," 1940
"It went zip when it moved and bop when it stopped,
And whirr when it stood still.
I never knew just what it was and I guess I never will."
— Tom Paxton, "The Marvelous Toy." "The Marvelous Toy and Other Gallimaufry," 1984
"I like the word geezer, a descriptive sound, almost onomatopoeia, and also coot, codger, biddy, battleax, and most of the other words for old farts."
— Garrison Keillor, "A Prairie Home Companion," January 10, 2007

Creating Sound Effects in Prose

"A sound theory underlies the onomaht—that we read not only with our eyes but also with our ears. The smallest child, learning to read by reading about bees, needs no translation for buzz. Subconsciously we hear the words on a printed page.
"Like every other device of the writing art, onomatopoeia can be overdone, but it is effective in creating mood or pace. If we skip through the alphabet we find plenty of words to slow the pace: balk, crawl, dawdle, meander, trudge and so on.
"The writer who wants to write 'fast' has many choices. Her hero can bolt, dash, hurry or hustle."
— James Kilpatrick, "Listening to What We Write." "The Columbus Dispatch," August 1, 2007

Linguists on Onomatopoeia

"Linguists almost always begin discussions about onomatopoeia with observations like the following: the snip of a pair of scissors is su-su in Chinese, cri-cri in Italian, riqui-riqui in Spanish, terre-terre in Portuguese, krits-krits in modern Greek. ... Some linguists gleefully expose the conventional nature of these words, as if revealing a fraud."
— Earl Anderson, "A Grammar of Iconism." Fairleigh Dickinson, 1999

A Writer's Word

"My favorite word is 'onomatopoeia,' which defines the use of words whose sound communicates or suggests their meanings. 'Babble,' 'hiss,' 'tickle,' and 'buzz' are examples of onomatopoeic usage.
"The word 'onomatopoeia' charms me because of its pleasing sound and symbolic precision. I love its lilting alternation of consonant and vowel, its tongue-twisting syllabic complexity, its playfulness. Those who do not know its meaning might guess it to be the name of a creeping ivy, or a bacterial infection, or maybe a small village in Sicily. But those acquainted with the word understand that it, too, in some quirky way, embodies its meaning.
"'Onomatopoeia' is a writer's word and a reader's nightmare but the language would be poorer without it."
— Letty Cottin Pogrebin, quoted by Lewis Burke Frumkes in "Favorite Words of Famous People." Marion Street Press, 2011

The Lighter Side of Onomatopoeia

Russian Negotiator: Why must every American president bound out of an automobile like as at a yacht club while in comparison our leader looks like ... I don't even know what word is.
Sam Seaborn: Frumpy?
Russian Negotiator: I don't know what "frumpy" is but onomatopoetically sounds right.
Sam Seaborn: It's hard not to like a guy who doesn't know frumpy but knows onomatopoeia.
— Ian McShane and Rob Lowe in "Enemies Foreign and Domestic." "The West Wing," 2002
"I have a new book, 'Batman: Cacophony.' Batman faces off against a character called Onomatopoeia. His shtick is that he doesn't speak; he just mimics the noises you can print in comic books."
– Kevin Smith, Newsweek, Oct. 27, 2008
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Snap, Crackle, Pop: Definition and Examples of Onomatopoeia." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 28). Snap, Crackle, Pop: Definition and Examples of Onomatopoeia. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Snap, Crackle, Pop: Definition and Examples of Onomatopoeia." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2023).