Does your written work need more ka-pow? Are your emails lacking the wow factor? Are your essays lacking that certain fizz?
Fear not ladies and gentlemen, as I firmly believe that I have the solution to all your writing woes.
Welcome to the wonderful world of onomatopoeia, (I can say it, but I can’t spell it!), or simply put, words that describe a sound.
We all come across onomatopoeic words every day, and I suppose the place we’ve seen them most frequently is in comics or the graphic magazines we all read. That’s where you’ll see the writer using certain words to bring a vivid graphic dimension to the illustrations in the story.
For instance, if the hero is in a fight, his clenched fist landing on the baddies chin will be accompanied by a graphic “Crunch!” or if it’s a Batman comic, “Pow!” or even a “Ka-Pow!”
However, onomatopoeia is not confined to comic books. The noises animals make such as, “meow”, “woof”, “neigh”, “quack”, “baa” and “moo” are onomatopoeic words that describe the sound the animal is making. Words like “splash”, “crash”, “thump”, “whoosh” and “swish” are also onomatopoeic, as are “zip”, “gush”, “whisper”, “giggle”, “grunt” and “growl”. The list goes on and on so please remember, using onomatopoeia is not insanely complicated or pretentious, it’s another tool in our arsenal which can add zest and interest to your written and spoken English.
Think of some words you use frequently and you’d be surprised how often you’re using onomatopoeia without thinking about it. Here’s just a few examples we use pretty often:
He rustled his papers nervously before he began his presentation.
(Hear his papers rustling?)
She slapped her hand down on the table to get their attention
(Bet that slap made you jump)
The encyclopaedia landed on the table with an almighty thud!
(It’s a big book, isn’t it?)
The constant drip of the tap began to annoy me.
(Fix it now, it’s driving me mad)
I could hear a worrying buzz when I switched on my laptop.
(Unplug it, it’s going to blow up)
One very interesting style when using onomatopoeic words, especially in comics, is that graphically, they’re often highlighted, mostly laid out in upper case letters, using bold colours and almost always used in conjunction with an exclamation mark. You can see the visual impact of the words in the graphics I’ve used, peppered throughout this article.
The advertising industry uses onomatopoeia to create a more memorable image for the brand it’s promoting, the first example I’m sure you’re familiar with. The strapline for Kellogg’s Rice Krispies is “Snap, Crackle and Pop” Three words cleverly chosen to describe the sound the cereal makes when milk is poured onto it. I’m sure you’ll agree, not only is it memorable, but it’s also such great idea.
Another, and in my opinion, the cleverest and most witty example of onomatopoeia in marketing branding is for TicTac mints. The words Tic and Tac are onomatopoeic, and were chosen by the brand to describe the opening and closing sounds of the packet’s lid. Again, a simple yet brilliant idea using onomatopoeia that used the ‘sound’ of words to create an identity and enduring imagery for an everyday product we all know so well
Using onomatopoeia in your written work is an absolutely fabulous way of making it much more impactful and interesting for the person reading it. Many people tend to think that words such as ‘pow’, ‘wham’ and ‘crunch’ can only be used graphically, but that’s simply not true. Don’t be held back with any doubt, onomatopoeia adds a vibrancy to your work making it a real delight to read.
*Now, before I go, I’d better refer to the headline for this article.
It’s a quote (though I think it’s been a bit mangled over time, but it’s a quote which I absolutely love.) It’s attributed to John Lennon while he was being interviewed by a highbrow literary critic of ‘The Times’ newspaper about Lennon’s second published book, “A Spaniard in the Works”. I should add by way of background that Lennon was not exactly well schooled, his actual writing talent lay in the fact that he enjoyed the sounds of words and how those words rhymed when he put them into sentences. He was also a huge fan of Edward Lear, whose jumbled poems and surreal writing style, (Lennon admitted to wanting to style himself as a ‘contemporary Lear’), impressed and motivated a young Lennon to begin writing what he thought accessible witty literature while he was still a schoolboy.
When the erudite interviewer wistfully asked him about the frequent use of onomatopoeia in his writing, an unfazed Lennon replied, “Automatic pier? I have no idea what you’re talking about…”
Pure, unadulterated genius. Mr. John Winston Lennon, I salute you.
I think Lennon’s quote goes to prove that you don’t have to be a Shakespeare, a Lear or a Fleming to write memorable literature, you just have to enjoy what you’re doing and write about things for which you feel a real enthusiasm and passion. I’ll be writing more on the issue of creative writing soon, when I be looking in some depth at that thorny and vexed issue with you.
See you next time.