Category Archives: Figures of Speech

The Sounds of Onomatopoeia

Do you remember where and when you learned about onomatopeoia? The word itself sort of knocks you down on first hearing, and then you get exposed to a very cool concept, the idea of words that sound like what they represent.

I  went web-surfing to find examples. The obvious words were sounds animals make, like meow, woof, and oink.

In the post “Onomatopoeia Examples” at EReading Worksheets, you’ll find some onomatopoeic words used in sentences:

  • The lunch lady plopped a scoop of something on Kristen’s tray.
  • The paintball splattered against the windshield.
  • The lawyer chased after the wail of the siren.
  • Did you forget to flush the toilet? (my personal favorite)

In “Onomatopoeia” on the site Literary Devices, there are examples from literature and song lyrics:

From the poem “Come Down, O Maid,” by Alfred Lord Tennyson: “The moan of doves in immemorial elms, and murmuring of innumerable bees . . .”

From the song “The Marvelous Toy,” by Tom Paxton: “It went zip when it moved and bop when it stopped, and whirr when it stood still.”

And not to be overlooked on the same site is “A Huge List of Onomatopoeia Examples:” There you’ll find words like raspy, sizzle, belch, and swish, and citations from literature, such as this one from The Tempest, by William Shakespeare: “Sometimes a thousand twanging instruments will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices.”

Fair warning: the sites I mentioned are seductive.  I could lose an afternoon on the Literary Devices’ pages, where there must be a hundred such devices listed, ranging from ad hominem to didacticism to nemesis to verisimilitude. Each  provides a definition and good examples.

Not to leave this post without a nod to the headline, if you didn’t know the definition of onomatopoeia, what would that word sound like?

Your thoughts? Leave a comment.


“Meow” means “woof” in cat.

–George Carlin





Celebrating Chuck Berry’s Words

When Voyager went into space in 1977, its cargo included a gold 33 1/3 record with 27 songs. Curated by a committee under Carl Sagan, the representative music included Mozart, Stravinsky, a Navajo chant, and “Johnny B. Goode,” written and performed by Chuck Berry. At the time, Saturday Night Live and Steve Martin played with the idea of aliens’ response to this musical treasury.

Chuck Berry, who died March 18th at the age of 90, lived long enough to see his music leave our solar system and enter interstellar space, a fact NASA confirmed in 2014. Wow.

To bring this blog post back to earth and somewhat consistent with the mission of NovelWords Cafe, I’d like to look at Berry’s lyrics. He’s been called the Poet Laureate of Rock and Roll. For example, here are the last lines of “Memphis”:

Last time I saw Marie she’s waving me good-bye
With hurry home drops on her cheek that trickled from her eye
Marie is only six years old, information please
Try to put me through to her in Memphis Tennessee

There are several YouTube videos of “Memphis,” the most unusual being one featuring Berry and John Lennon.

Berry also wrote and recorded poetry. You can listen to “My Dream,” recorded in 1971.

Give a Big Round of Applause for Cliches

raining-cats-and-dogs-clipart (1)How true is the mantra that cliches signal “amateur writer” at work? Or while it’s OK to put a cliche in the mouth of a character you must avoid it like the plague in the narrative?

Well, I’m not so sure. A string of words becomes a cliche because it’s so apt. And it may be that in striving to be 100% free of additive cliches–I’m going out on a limb here–the writer might put distance between the story & the reader. The occasional cliche just might be comforting, like down-home cooking. Don’t want a steady diet of it, but . . .

That said, my favorite thing to do is to give familiar words a little twist. In his short story “Defender of the Faith,” Phillip Roth might have had the protagonist say Grossbart “pulled strings” to get off the duty roster of soldiers being sent to war. Instead he says, “I knew I had discovered the string that Grossbart had pulled.” 

So here’s a little food for thought. How might you twist any of the following cliches?

    1. a perfect storm
    2. a riot of color
    3. paralyzed with fear
    4. chilled to the bone
    5. Connect the dots.
    6. Don’t get your undies in a wad.
    7. Think outside the box.
    8. It’s raining cats & dogs.
    9. What could possibly go wrong?
    10. Fake it till you make it.

    I’m eager to read your Comments.