• onomatopoeia •
Pronunciation: ah-nê-mæ-dê-pee-ê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: The status of a word whose pronunciation imitates its meaning, e.g. buzz, crack, clink, clank, clang, fizz, thump, hiss, sizzle, slurp.
Notes: English has few words with four vowels in a row. Unfortunately, they are not in alphabetical order in this six-syllable lexical delight, so we must simply memorize them. To complicate matters further, we haven't yet decided how to spell the adjective; both onomatopoeic [ah-nê-mæ-tê-pee-ik] and onomatopoetic [ah-nê-mæ-tê-pê-wet-ik] are at our disposal.
In Play: All languages sport onomatopoetic words. English has thud, crack, quack, tinkle, boom, squeal and mumble, just to mention a few. They are words referring to sounds made by imitating the sound itself. The words for the sounds that animals make are almost always onomatopoetic. Meow, cheep, cock-a-doodle-do, gobble, moo and caw serve to demonstrate the principle.
Word History: Today's Good Word may be traced back to Greek onomatopoeia, the abstract noun from onomatopoios "name-maker". This word is composed of onoma(t)- "name" + poiein "to make". Onoma comes from the Proto-Indo-European root (o)nomen- "name" with a fickle initial O that came and went over the course of Indo-European language history for no apparent reason. This word made it to German and English as name and to Russian as im(en)ya. We find a variant onym in many English words, such as pseudonym (false name), anonymous (nameless), plus synonym, antonym and several others. (Speaking of names, we cannot forget the name of Cat Waters, who was kind enough to suggest today's Good Word.)
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