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Are words like "oh","barked", or "rang" considered onomatopoeia?

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Jennings Williamson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Onomatopoetic words sound like the thing they describe. When I think of onomatopoeia, I usually think of words like moo or meow or oink—you know, animal sounds—because those words are so clearly meant to mimic the sounds they are describing, and we all learn them so early in life. The word "bark" is onomatopoetic for the same reason: it is meant to sound like the noise a dog makes. However, when we use the word as a past-tense verb, as in "barked," it does seem to lose its onomatopoetic value: dogs say "bark" not "barked."

Now, I feel like "rang" is a bit of a different story because it is an irregular verb: we don't say the bell "ringed," we say it "rang," and rang still sounds like the sound it describes, just like clang or ding or dong does. All of these words are onomatopoetic, though ringed would not be for the same reason barked is not.

"Oh," on the other hand, is not an onomatopoeia because it does not describe something that sounds like "oh." It is just a sort of verbal ejaculation or expression of surprise or disappointment.

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belarafon eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Onomatopoeia are words that sound like their meaning. For example, buzz, crash, or tick all sound like the noise they represent.

For the three words you ask about, I would assign these meanings:

Oh - basically a confirmation of something, or a reaction to something, "Oh" changes its meaning depending on context and the words around it. "Oh!" he shouted has a different context than "Oh," he muttered. It's a short, flat word, and unless specified it's a short, flat sound as well, so I would say that it is Onomatopoeia unless the context makes it something else.

Barked - "Bark" is considered Onomatopoeia because a dog's noise is often short and hard, though other noises (woof, chuff) are better examples. "Barked" usually means that a person is saying something in a loud and harsh manner, so it's less of a direct Onomatopoeia than a descriptive one: that is, it gives the phrase it describes the sound it is meant to evoke. "Drop and give me twenty!" he barked sounds different than "Drop and give me twenty?" he asked.

Rang - this is just the past-tense form of "Ring," and so is just as much of an Onomatopoeia.

To sum up, many Onomatopoeia words depend on context more than on themselves.

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