Say I'm attempting to write a sound, as in 'poof', 'thud', or 'clank'. What's the correct convention to write something like this? Is there one, or is it a grey area as long as it's clear to the reader?
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You might consider looking in the dictionary first:
If you don't find it, you can just make something up. But include some context, or you risk not being understood:
If we hadn't been told what was happening here, we might not be able to determine what the ploomp sound signified.
I think there's a slight difference between your title and your question. Onomatopoeia refers to actual words: clank and thud are both in the dictionary, and there is no reason to write them differently because of their origin. Sounds that are not [yet] words are usually put in quotation marks if made by a person ("Aaagh!") or italicised if not ('The snow made a soft plomp as it fell'). Bear in mind that "The cat meowed", "The cat said "Miaou"" and The cat made a meow of agreement" all refer to the same action, but with different emphasis.
Grammatically, onomatopoeias are verbs, nouns, or interjections:
Typographically, onomatopoeias present the same choices as thoughts: Set them normally, quoted, or italicized. Style guides recommend using one style consistently, whichever you choose. But set verb onomatopoeias as normal text, especially if they're common words.
EDIT: Notwithstanding the source, it's good practice to set all onomatopoeias as normal text – it maintains consistency between verb and other onomatopoeias, and doesn't require you to make a clear distinction between onomatopoeias and other words.
Sneeze and drip are both onomatopoeia, so my approach would be to treat poof, thud, and clunk as you would any other word, as long as the context is clear through punctuation, typography and context.
protected by tchrist Mar 1 '15 at 18:18
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