Onomatopoeic. This is the Greek-via-Latin portmanteau into which words like today’s prompt fall. In a way, they may be related to an unprovable hypothesis of mine, previously mentioned in several posts. The hypothesis is that our first music may have come from listening to our world and imitating the sounds we heard. The first onomatopoeic words may have come about the same way. When was the word “tweet” first used? Thankfully, not by the obsessive-compulsive Twitterverse but perhaps by a rugged, hairy fellow with a protuberant brow, his mate, or children. “Growl.” Pretty darn close to “grrrr,” the sound of an angry canine ancestor. I am pretty sure “meow” was not brought into being by the plaintive cry of a prehistoric cave kitty (“prehistoric” meaning before 4,000 B.C.E., before storytelling became part of any written record, and only a blink ago in earth’s history). One could go on imagining all of the ancient sounds and the words our ancestors contrived to represent them. Let’s not.
Our daily word is as good an example as any. It is the sound a relatively small object makes when it falls into some water. An acorn. A walnut. A rock, not a big one. Not a leaf. That may not make any sound at all. A small bird plunging into a stream or pond for a glistening fish. A fish breaching the water’s surface and falling back into gravity’s pull.
Onomatopoeia comes from the genitive form of the Greek words onoma (onomatos), which means “name” or “word” and poiein, meaning to make or compose. So, compose-a-name or compose-a-word. That is pretty much how onomatopoeic words come into being. This definition from the Greek is so broad it makes me wonder whether my hypothesis about the general evolution of vocabulary and music is pretty close to true. If I were a student of early languages, I might know the answer. If anyone who reads this is, please let me know. Long comments are welcome as I leave them elsewhere quite often and would like to experience less guilt in doing so.
As it happens, a WordPress writer—Kathy Temean—has compiled a list of onomatopoeic words. It can be found in the link provided below. Although it’s a long list, I am sure there are more.