By necessity, visual phenomena have abstract descriptions. The word yellow is only linked to the actual color because our teachers told us so. Sounds are easier to describe. Because language is sound, the most expedient way of getting your meaning across is through mimicry.

I was wondering whether anyone had ever come up with an abstract description of an auditory phenomenon that stuck in the community as the de facto term to describe that sound. A word for a sound that is not an onomatopoeia for that sound.

I gave it ten minutes and gave up so I decided to crowdsource the question.

  • Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/28960/…
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 10:47
  • Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/103741/…
    – Neptunian
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 11:38
  • You mean like 'ululation?' Not exactly de facto...
    – Neptunian
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 12:00
  • But 'ululation' is onomatopoeic.
    – Rupe
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 12:19
  • @Probaton I've been going through animal noises (just in my mind, don't want to disturb the office). The only non-onomatopoeic one I've come up with so far is 'trumpet' for elephant but I guess the fact it's based on simile makes it fail your 'abstract' criterion.
    – Rupe
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 12:21

1 Answer 1


The words "bellow", "shout" and "yell" all have similar definitions, but are different enough so that depending on your preference and situation at least one will be accurate without being an onomatopoeia. "Bellow" would be my choice since it's defined as "the deep roaring sound characteristic of a bull". Notice that the sound is described as roaring, but referred to as a bellow. This is attributable to the fact that cows low, so bulls can be expected to make a bull-low. I'm not sure if this is 'abstract' enough, but having the sound identified with the type of animal, as opposed to the noise the animal actually makes strikes me as fairly uncommon.

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