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What word best describes the sound made by an object or a marine animal (like fish) passing through water for a prolonged period of time?

Whoosh and splash both come to mind, but neither really describes what I'm thinking of of. Whoosh sounds too airy and splash connotes a sudden, loud, impact with a liquid as opposed to a gradual passage through it.

OED definitions of the intransitive senses of whoosh and splash:

whoosh: To utter or emit a dull soft sibilant sound, like that of something rushing through the air; to move rapidly with a rushing sound.

splash: To cause dashing or noisy agitation of a liquid; to move or fall with a splash or splashes.

Example sentence:

A school of clownfish _____ through the coral reef.

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    None of the words shown so far on this page (whoosh, splash, sploosh) correspond to "an object passing through water for a prolonged period of time", IMO. For that, you will need to give a better idea what you mean: what kind of object, for instance? The sound of an object traveling underwater depends mostly on the size and shape of the object. The words given so far correspond to an object hitting the water, including the ensuing sound of the moving water. They do not correspond to the sound of an object moving through the water.
    – Drew
    Feb 17, 2014 at 6:45
  • @Drew A large fish, say 10 feet long, swimming through water that covers the bottom three quarters of its body. I'd say its travelling at about four miles an hour. It's moving in a S pattern, maybe splashing a little but mostly sliding through the water in a relatively graceful manner. Feb 17, 2014 at 7:04

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After much though and inspired by the discussion on this page, the best word that I was able to find was "slosh".

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  • A fish that glides through the water in a mostly graceful manner does not slosh, though, so if that is indeed the intended use, then ‘slosh’ is not a very good answer. Sloshing is more the sound that a person wading through knee-high water makes, or the sound you make plodding along in the rain on a muddy, squishy dirt road. Feb 21, 2014 at 22:29
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    @JanusBahsJacquet I agree. For me the word 'slosh' describes the sound of, say, waves striking rocks. Whenever I hear 'slosh' I think of the surface of water being disturbed not the deep body.
    – BoldBen
    Aug 2, 2022 at 12:42
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I believe swish is the right onomatopoeic word. It can be used both as a noun and a verb. It is usually used for the sound of movement in air but it is used for the sound of movement in water as well.

The noun definition in OED:

hissing sound like that produced by a switch or similar slender object moved rapidly through the air or an object moving swiftly in contact with water; movement accompanied by such sound.

The verb definition in OED:

intransitive. To move with a swish (see swish n.1 1); to make the sound expressed by ‘swish’.


Example usages from books:

The Heart Mender by Sally Streib:

Rainbows of fish swished past me as I glided along.

Apocalypse Undone: My Survival of Japanese Imprisonment During World War II By Preston John Hubbard:

Given our position in the convoy, it is clear that the torpedo had swished by our ship by the narrowest of margins.

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One option is the onomatopoeic word sploosh. It appears in a number of published works going back many decades. For example, from Kenneth Graham, The Wind in the Willows (1915):

Greatly alarmed, he [Mole] made a grab at the side of the boat, and the next moment — Sploosh! Over went the boat, and he found himself struggling in the river.

From Amazing Stories, issues 7–12 (1940) [snippet]:

Sploosh! The unseen surface [of the water] flew up at him like a floor. He pierced it as squarely as a plummeting bomb. At the risk of breaking his back, he cut his swift course upward ; and luckily, so, for he scraped rocks that projected from the bottom.

From Carter Dickson, Night at the Mocking Widow (1950) [snippet]:

... a sudden occasional gush like a water spout, kept it always fresh. To the crowd, pressing along the planks on either side, it was the biggest hit of the bazaar.

"Ol' parson do have some good notions, don't 'e? One wrong step, and — sploosh!"

"Ah, ol' parson's all right!"

""Like me to chuck 'ee in, Gert?"

From Life Around Us (1964) [snippet]:

Young seals sometimes slide down a smooth sloping sandbank and plunge headfirst into the sea with a sploosh. Down under the water they go—swimming and tumbling, and chasing each other in circles and somersaults.

From Mademoiselle, volume 62 (1965) [snippet]:

To a non skin diver, life in the company of an enthusiast is very much like living with a bubble. One minute he is with you in the boat or on the rock, then, sploosh!, into the sea he goes—and the only record you have of him for hours is an aerated movement on the surface of the sea.

From Texas Game and Fish, volumes 24–25 (1965) [snippet]:

Familiar sounds along the banks of the Colorado River in Central Texas often have been spiced with an occasional "zing— sploosh!" A brilliant day centuries ago might have beckoned Indians with their bows to fling their arrows into the into the river after a fat fish, and modern-day archers in the area have rediscovered this challenging activity.

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    ‘Sploosh’ is a brilliant word, but unfortunately, it doesn't quite fit the criteria here: like ‘splash’, it denotes the sound of impact with a liquid, rather than continued motion through it (as all the examples you cite also indicate). Feb 17, 2014 at 11:09

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