Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, November 13, 2014



Bunches of English words are imitative, or onomatopoeic. Some have even been put to music…

Splish-splash I was taking a bath

This post considers some not-quite top-40s, yet equally enjoyable examples.

Didgeridoo, an aboriginal Australian word, was first written down in English in 1924. Presumably, the name imitates a didgeridoo’s sounds just as it is filled with air.

Another great music-related onomatopoeic word is oom-pah, born in 1877 (when John Phillips Souza was only twenty-three years old). This word imitates to the sounds made by the tuba and sousaphone.

Starting out meaning mindless babbling, & morphing into a word meaning crazy or silly, we have gaga, which appeared in English in 1920.

We call a petty quarrel a spat, because spat sounds like a slap or smack, often an element in a squabble. Spat first showed up in English in 1804.

Squabble most likely has imitative roots, also. It seems some Scandinavian speakers had an onomatopoeic word referring to a babbling quarrel. This word made its way into English somewhere around 1600 in the form of squabble.

Squabbles or spats might also include any number of words imitative of a hit or strike. Slap, whack, thump, bonk & bash are examples.

Heaps of imitative words refer to the noises we sometimes make:

yodel showed up in English in 1827
hiss showed up as early as the 1300s
he-he, imitative of laughter, showed up sometime before Middle English
sneeze showed up in the late 1500s. Its pre-Germanic root
(fneu-s) was imitative.
howl came to English during the 1200s from an unspecified Germanic
guffaw showed up in English from Scottish in 1720
gag appeared in the 1400s & may have Old Norse roots
blather has either Scottish or Old Norse roots, both of which are imitative

Keep your ears open this week for words that just might be imitative, & in all your spare time between noticing possibly imitative words, feel free to leave a comment.

Interested in more imitative words? See Imitative Annoyances & Kiss.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: OED, Didgeridoo Origins & Use,  Merriam Webster, Wordnik, & Etymonline


  1. Lots of fun words in this batch. Onomatopoia seems to make for funny, light words. When we refer to an argument as a "spat" or "squabble" it seems to diminish its importance. Usually a good thing.

  2. I'm with you, Anne. Let's start the Spat & Squabble Diminishment Association!

    1. And let's add quibble. As in let's not… I love that word and it fits right in. Sounds like much ado about nothing. I had other examples but at my age I'm lucky to hold on to a thread of a post. :) Good one as usual, Charlie.

  3. I can think of many words that in my mind sound like their meaning. Like, dive and flutter and stumble and cough and mucus and...oh wait, that's just my cold talking.

  4. Thanks, Christine. I'll see what can be done with dive, flutter, cough & mucus. May your cold beat a hasty retreat.