Sign up ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I often in children's literature come across the rrrrrrrrrrrrS when a plane take off and the bumpity-bump when someone falls, etc.

and I am wondering if these are called with a specific term? written sounds? transcribed sounds maybe?

share|improve this question
"bumpity-bump" requires a hyphen. –  Mitch Jul 19 '13 at 13:26
We in the U.S. assume the onomatopoeic words we're familiar with--animal sounds for example--actually represent the way animals sound. To the people in another culture, on the other hand, the word "moo" may sound (when translated and pronounced)completely different. The same may be true for meow, baaaa, ribbit, bzzzzz, neigh, ad infinitum. Kind of makes me wonder if there is a toy manufacturer in the U.S. that makes those animal-sound toys that kids in the U.S. play with that modifies them to be culturally sensitive to the kids in the various countries to which the company exports them! –  rhetorician Jul 19 '13 at 14:04
It's the other way around. The toys are mostly made in China, for export to America, so the moos and oinks probably sound funny to the people who manufacture them. I wonder whether the Cinese factory workers have any clue about the Western holidays (Easter , Xmas, Halloween) for which they make all the decorations, costumes, etc. –  Brian Hitchcock Apr 15 at 7:57

1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Making a descriptive word out of the sound that something makes is called onomatopoeia:

Definition of ONOMATOPOEIA
1 : the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it (as buzz, hiss)
2 : the use of words whose sound suggests the sense

The term is derived from the Greek words ὄνομα (onoma, name) and ποιεῖν (poiein, to make, to create). The same root as poet.

share|improve this answer
Well I guess bumpity bump falls under that category but what about rrrrrrrrrrr? I mean it's not lexicalized. –  rery Jul 19 '13 at 13:16
I'd say it still applies @rery. See the wikipedia page on onomatopoeia, their example is "tic-tac" for the sound a clock makes, that seems equivalent. –  terdon Jul 19 '13 at 13:21
That's the first time I've hear tic-tac for the sound of a clock. AFAIK, in BrE it's always referred to as tick-tock - at least it was when I was a child. –  TrevorD Jul 19 '13 at 15:18
I can't speak to English, but in Dutch, we use onomatopoeia for both a word that is etymologically related to a sound ("buzzing"), and an actual literary attempt at a sound effect ("ZZZOOOOMMMMM! He raced past us."). I can only assume the same applies across languages. –  Flater Apr 15 at 15:14
@Flater that's precisely what the definition I cited states. Zoooommmm! is a word the moment you utter it, and so falls into the second sense. –  terdon Apr 15 at 15:22

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.