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I came across these two sentences in Peopleware

The Furniture Police at one company we know even listed a number for spilled coffee on the Emergency Numbers decal affixed to every phone. We were never there when anyone called the number, but you could probably expect white-coated maintenance men to come careening through the halls in an electric cart with flashing lights and a siren going ooogah-ooogah.

I've never seen ooogah-ooogah written for sirens sound before, but I quite like it.

I, myself, as a kid remember saying something like nee-nore, nee-nore — but I don't know if that's regional or just kiddy speak.

  • is there a "proper" onomatopoeia for sirens?
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  • English is such a flexible language, it's easy to make new words. While we don't want to use words inappropriately, why do we seem so reluctant to coin our own usages? Especially in the delightful area of onomatopoeia? I like "ooogah-ooogah", too. I think French emergency vehicles still go "pin-pon", which reflects the mor nasal intonation of gallic sirens.
    – Margana
    Aug 25, 2015 at 12:52
  • My German spouse says Ta too ta tah. There are specific pitches for each syllable. Aug 26, 2015 at 2:07
  • Depends on the siren. There are probably a dozen different siren sounds. Most fire and police vehicles around here are capable of making several, changing as they, eg, progress through an intersection.
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 30, 2016 at 12:55
  • Not Onomatopoeia but perhaps interesting here as sound -related .... "blues and twos" - From the plural of blue + the plural of two, with reference to the blue flashing lights and (typically) two-tone siren used on an emergency vehicle. according to en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/blues_and_twos
    – k1eran
    Dec 7, 2016 at 2:02

3 Answers 3

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I like the one suggested by the UD:

Wee woo:

  • is the sound a siren makes. It is used in jest, to make fun of police cars, fire engines, ambulances, anything with a siren, really. Popularized by short films.

Anyway I don't think there is an 'official' one.

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I believe you are correct in your original thought that nee-nore is the correct answer, though it is more commonly spelled nee-naw. From Wiktionary:

Imitating the sound of a siren on a vehicle used by emergency services.

The quotations provided illustrate this usage nicely, for example:

Whenever an opponent went down, be it genuine or feigned, the West Ham faithful would simultaneously cry 'Nee-naw, nee-naw, nee-naw, nee-naw', mimicking the sound of an ambulance.

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Freddy Fox in "Peppa Pig" thinks ambulances go "nee nah, nee nah, nee nah". I quite like that one.

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