In comics, for example those by Walt Disney, interjections that describe or emphasize in words what the characters in the image are doing are quite commonly used (cough, sigh, tweet).

According to the German Wikipedia, a grammatical term for this type of word has been introduced only recently, in 1998. It’s called Inflektiv.

I could not find an English translation, neither on these pages nor in any search engine. Is there a term for this?


5 Answers 5


The German Wikipedia page for Inflektiv also provides a synonym—Erikativ—which is "named for Erika Fuchs, who translated Mickey Mouse comics into German and used the form frequently". Going by Google's results, Erikativ (or Ericativ, sometimes with an 'e' at the end) appears to be just as popular as Inflektiv.

There is an interesting (and exhaustive) paper by a Mark Lindsay [PDF] on the subject of the Erikativ from a linguistic point of view. He states:

The German Erikativ construction (also known as the Inflektiv (Teuber 1998)) is a phenomenon that existed prior to the mid-twentieth century, but first developed widespread prominence through the German-language translations of Disney comics during the 1950’s. The translator, Erika Fuchs, used this form to describe sounds and actions of the characters (not unlike English crash! or pow!); eventually, these words evolved beyond onomatopoeic use, expanding to phrases like stare (starr) or dancing while sitting (sitzendtanz). Unlike onomatopoeias, these new forms followed a predictable pattern.

It should be noted that Teuber (1998, p. 8) describes the Inflektiv as a verb form that is non-inflected (German: nicht-flektiert); therefore, the German term Inflektiv should be translated into English as Uninflective. To avoid the confusion this causes, I shall use the alternative term, Erikativ.


Teuber (1998) argues convincingly that the Erikativ is a true verb form, as it has semantic and morphological restrictions that distinguish it from the freeform nature of interjections. Noting the common similarity between the Erikativ form and the verbal stem, he coins the term Inflektiv (‘uninflective’) to describe its lack of overt inflection.

The Erikativ is essentially the same as "actions" or "emotes" (WP) seen in most IRC channels and other chat rooms such as *dies*, *dances*, *rolls his eyes*, *coughs*, etc.

In comic lettering, emotes, when inserted within dialogue, are punctuated differently. These punctuations are called breath marks, crow's feet, cat's whiskers, or fireflies. I am unaware of any standard term that describes the "breath words" themselves.

  • 1
    Nice elaboration! +1
    – Olaf
    Sep 27, 2012 at 8:22

In scripts (which are used for cartoons, as well as plays and conventional films), instructions as to how a character is behaving, or the manner of his/her/its speech are called

  • personal directions
  • parentheticals
  • wrylies

See discussion here.

This category covers both simple action instructions


as well as more extensive guidance

lifting eyebrow, stares at Janet wryly

The derivation of each of the first two alternative terms is fairly obvious. The instruction is a direction to an individual actor (similar to a stage direction). It is enclosed in parentheses in the text of the script.

The term wrylies is probably synecdoche, using the term wryly to stand in for all the emotive instructions given by playwrights or directors.

But I am your biggest fan.

Some actors find some of these instructions patronizing, suggesting that the actor does not understand the affect of the dialog.

SUPPLEMENT: The examples you give all use words that convey sounds. My recollection of cartoon style conjures up POW and KRUNCHHH and similar terms. Where a word is intended to imitate the sound it represents, is is called an onomatopoeia. Since the cartoon terms sound like interjections (even if they are not formally speech), I would suggest onomatopoetic interjection. Not one word, but a short descriptive phrase.

  • 1
    The question does not ask for a name for instructions in scripts. Though your post is interesting, it does not answer the question. Sep 26, 2012 at 14:08
  • 1
    That's quite interesting, but I don't think your explanations refer to the word usage described in my question. The "Inflektiv" is rather a description of the characters action, not an instruction. "Cough" does not mean "Perform a cough" but "The character is coughing".
    – Olaf
    Sep 26, 2012 at 14:11

In Russian these forms are called verbal interjections. These are such interjections that can be used to indicate some action. Googling indicates that in linguistic articles written in English this term is also acceptable.


Words that spell out sounds, and often carry sensations or inflective meaning are called


I can't tell that's what you're looking for. You may be looking for a word that indicates these words when used in a script or similar impression.

  • Never heard that word, but it is definitely close and more catchy than uninflective.
    – Olaf
    Sep 27, 2012 at 13:21
  • @Olaf, kids love saying it. Sep 28, 2012 at 14:45

I think I've seen them called "unsound effects" or the like.

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