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miércoles, noviembre 12

Bangs and crashes: words that are sounds

(By William Sutton, but I don’t know where or when it was published)

Bang! Crash! Pop! Have you ever wondered how comic book writers invent noises? In fact, they hardly need to invent any at all. English is full of onomatopoeia: words which mimic sounds. Most of these words are derived from Germanic languages - or from pure sounds - making them harder to understand for Spanish, Portuguese and Italian speakers.

Lots of verbs represent the sound of hitting something. Explosions, boom, crash and blast. You can hit or punch someone, but it's more evocative to bash, smash, whack, thwack or smack them. Say the word aloud to get its sense: 'thump' is a solid hit; 'plonk' and 'thud' are accidental; 'clang' is metallic; 'splat' is wet.

You can bash or biff, making noises like 'pow,' 'blam' and 'wham'. Guns go bang, while space guns go 'zap'. Things flying through the air whoosh or whizz. Space ships zoom. Alarms buzz or ring. Sirens blare. Car horns honk, hoot or toot. Keys Jangle. Leaves rustle, grass whispers. Chains rattle. Champagne corks pop. Curtains swish. Cars go 'Vroom vroom.' Watches tick. Clocks tick-tock. Bells ring 'ding dong' or 'ding-a-Iing'. Little bells tinkle (like Peter Pan's Tinkerbell), while big gongs go 'dong' or 'bong'. Microwaves ping, when the food's ready. And if an American says "Badabing badaboom", it means something is clearly and quickly over (for example, if Homer Simpson finished his beer quicker than Barney).

Liquids make many noises. Rain can pitter-patter. Disney immortalised drips and drops in Bambi: "Drip drip drop, little April showers." You know how to splash through puddles, but you can also splosh, splish or plash. Streams babble or murmur. Fountains gush, spout or spurt. Drink can fizz or fizzle. Fried food can crackle or sizzle (as can fireworks). You can slosh water around. Steam hisses.

Your stomach also gurgles. It may also rumble or grumble before you belch or burp. When in pain, we say, "Ow" or "Ouch". When disgusted, "Yuk" or "Ugh". And, of course, we hiccup. We snort in disdain. We gasp in surprise: "Gulp!" We can also gulp when we drink, or slurp. When eating, we munch, crunch, chew and chomp.

To talk quietly, we whisper, murmur or mumble. We giggle, chuckle and guffaw in amusement. Our teeth chatter from cold or fear. When blowing, we huff and puff. When running, we pant and wheeze. When sleepy, we snooze or zizz: "Zzzzzz". Even though we may deny it, we probably snore. When ill, we cough, sniff and sneeze: "Achoo!"

When we cry, we go: "Boohoo". This gives us the old joke: Knock knock. Who's there? Boo. Boo who? Don't cry, I was only joking!