Proofreading Tips - Onomatopoeia

Tee hee. Ha ha. 

It’s August, time for something silly. 

What’s not to like about words which sound like or suggest their meaning? 

From a teaching point of view it’s unfortunate that, of all figures of speech, the one most easily understood by children has such a challenging name and spelling. Contrived from the Greek onomat (name) and poiein (making), it can be further complicated with a typographical ligature for o and e. So, font permitting, there’s onomatopœia (boom tish). 

Writing for children is (rightly) awash with onomatopoeia; here’s an inspiring list of random noises with their usual spellings: 

Natural noises 

- including some from ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’: 

long wavy grass swish, swash 
mud squelch, squerch 
storm hooo wooo, howl, whistle, whine 
water splash, splosh, splish, babble, drip, gurgle, gush, whoosh 

Animal noises 

Animal noises are interpreted differently around the world. This could have implications for the translated editions of your work: 

bee buzz, bzzz 
cats purr, meow, miaow, mew 
cockerels cock-a-doodle-doo (but it’s the much more accurate cocirico in French and several other languages) 
dogs bow wow, ruff, woof, yap yap, yelp 
frogs croak (but for American species it’s ribbit
horses neigh, whinny horses’ hooves – clip clop 
weasels – rzzzz (OK, that’s one for any fans of the Mothers of Invention and/or classic LP covers of the 1970s - recognise the thumbnail at the top of the article?) 

Human body noises 

Fear not, this isn’t going to get too gross: 

crying boo hoo, wah wah, sniffle, sob, wail, weep 
heartbeat lub-dub (lmgtfy – that’s the atrioventricular then the semilunar valves) 
noisy drinking slurp, gulp, glug 
noisy eating chomp, crunch, munch and now there’s nom nom nom 

disapprovaltsk or tut tut (these are alveolar clicks… ta dah!) 
shivering confirmation - brrr 
sneezingatishoo or achoo (though the range of human sneezing in my experience includes hup-boo, aa-rarg and tssk

Miscellaneous noises 

siren – Another noise with translation implications. Nee naw (UK) but of course there’s woo woo (USA) and many more variations around the world. 
extinguishing a candlepfft 
spring/trampoline – boing and so on! 

You’re in good company if you’re feeling inventive: 
catmkgnao in James Joyce’s Ulysses 
horses houyhnhnm in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels 
horses’ hoovestlot-tlot in Alfred Noyes’s The Highwayman 

And finally – spelling can be varied for effect, of course. Pressure exerted on a ruler clamped by the lid of the desk creates dwoing… or dwoiiinnnnggggg…

Catriona Tippin has been a member of SCBWI since 2006 and helps organise venues for SCBWI North East. Details of her writing and illustrating here. She proofreads study guides, house magazines and publicity material for national educational organisations, in addition to working on a variety of proofreads and copyedits for the growing self-published world. Her monthly column is intended to give you food for thought, remembering “Any correction of the speech or writing of others will contain at least one grammatical, spelling or typographical error” (McKean’s Law, named after its inventor Erin McKean, editor of the Oxford American Dictionary).


  1. Delightful.
    Sometimes I make up words if I really cannot find the sound I want. I also use dialect where it suits - tewit for the sound and name of a lapwing in the North.

    1. - and some bird sounds are difficult to write down but fun to describe - the eider duck is a surprised pantomime dame according to 'Tweet of the Day' on Radio 4. I think they sound like they've just heard some really juicy gossip!

  2. Replies
    1. Untz untz untz untz (techno dance music)...

  3. Great article. What sound does a bag of flour make as it's tipped into a mixing bowl? I came across this problem when rewriting a PB translated from the Estonian. I personally favoured Plompf but I think we went for Pfff in the end.

    1. What a satisfying sound to have to describe. Both sound right though Plompf captures a whole bag of flour and a nice big mixing bowl. The big choice I know of is for helicopter noises: thwop-thwop-thwop, whup-whup-whup, flac-flac-flac, thith-thith-thith, dubdubdub and tocotocotoco.

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  6. Your proofreading tips very helpful for student because student any time mistake him during the writing and your tips give us wright way thanks for share it online plagiarism detector.

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