'Onomatopoeia' is a reasonably common word used to describe words that sound like the sounds they're used to describe. I was wondering whether there was an analogous term for words that sound like what their meanings look like — words like 'glint' or 'shimmer'.

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    Synaesthesia ...?
    – immutabl
    Sep 28, 2012 at 13:01
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    Granted, the Bouba/kiki effect is real, but I suggest most of the time we're just dealing with the fact that we know the meanings of the words we actually use, and that's why we tend to extrapolate meaning inherent in the form of the symbols themselves. Sep 28, 2012 at 13:26
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    @FumbleFingers whether we're extrapolating meaning after the fact or not, there could still be a word for the concept I've described.
    – user867
    Sep 28, 2012 at 13:32
  • @user867: Indeed. There are words for all sorts of concepts that don't necessarily reflect the real world, and oftentimes the existence of a word indicates that at least some people do (or did) believe the referent to be "real" (astrology, the hereafter, for example). I'm not saying there are no words for your concept (deadly's sound symbolism seems as good as any to me) - just that for most practical purposes it's a concept born out of fanciful thinking rather than observable linguistic fact. Sep 28, 2012 at 13:47
  • Wouldn't the equivalent concept to onomatopoeia be words that look like their meanings? Not that I can think of any at the moment...
    – Marthaª
    Sep 28, 2012 at 14:00

2 Answers 2


An ideophone — a word that sounds like its idea or concept.

It's quite a general term that could include onomatopoeia. There are other terms for certain types of sound symbolism.


John Lawler has some works on phonosemantics, which connect the meaning of words to the way they sound. I think that Bouba/Kiki, onomatopoeia and the OP's question can be seen as special cases of phonosemantics.

Perhaps @JohnLawler himself can drop by and explain much better than me. :-)

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