OK, I must admit that I had never heard of this term until recently. When I came across it I figured it would make a good subject to write an article about. Specifically, how onomatopoeia is used in songwriting.
What is Onomatopoeia? Onomatopoeia is the term for a word that describes the sound associated with that word. Examples include clap, zing, boom, hiss, and smack.
Merriam-Webster’s Onomatopoeia definition is 1: the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it (such as buzz, hiss)
Examples of Onomatopoeia Used in Songs
The first example that came to mind was the Roger Miller song, “Chug a lug“. It’s about a friend of his who brings some alcohol to school. When it comes time for them to partake, he sings, “Chug a lug, Chug a lug”. That is an example of using a word, or term, that refers to a sound that something makes… like binge drinking in this case! If you listen to the end of the first verse, he adds to the use of onomatopoeia by including the word, “ring”….. “Mmm, my ears still ring”.
Throughout the song, Roger makes some noises that aren’t really Onomatopoeia words, in the purest definition, but are kind of gurgles that one might make after a big swig of strong alcohol. Maybe those can be categorized as, “semi-onomatopoeias”. Don’t quote me on that term!
An obvious example of a song utilizing this device is in Bobby Darin’s 1958 hit, “Splish Splash“. It’s right there in the title! Later in the song there’s, “rub a dub”, and “bing bang”. That word, “bang” just now reminded me of another song… “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang“.
A bit more modern example can be heard in Katy Perry’s song “Firework“, with the phrase, “boom boom boom”.
There was an old jingle for Alka Seltzer years ago that went, “Plop plop, fizz fizz, oh what a relief it is.” A classic example of onomatopoeia used in songs!
There are many, many, more places where we can find Onomatopoeia examples in songs. Hopefully I’ve given you some ideas of how you can take advantage of this technique while crafting your own songs.
If you’d like to hear a creative use of, and song about this topic, check out Guava Juice’s, “Hit Em’ With The Onomatopoeia!!
And then go hit them with your own unique way of writing. Now that you understand how to use onomatopoeia in songwriting, check out my article on alliteration!