Onomatopoeia is the use of language that sounds like the thing or action it describes.

History of Onomatopoeia

English author Henry Peacham first used the term Onomatopoeia in his 1577 book on grammar and rhetoric called ''The Garden of Eloquence.” He defined it as ''when we invent, devise, fayne, and make a name intimating the sound of that it signifieth.” 

The word "onomatopoeia" traces back to Greek onoma, meaning "name," and poiein, meaning "to make." Poiein is also the root of “poem” and “poet.” While the term wasn’t coined until the 1500s, some linguists theorize that language originated with the imitation of natural sounds, including those of animals and weather phenomena, meaning onomatopoeia could date back to the invention of language itself.

Edgar Allen Poe uses onomatopoeia in his poem “The Bells.” He describes the sound of the bells, “How they clang, and clash, and roar!” using the words “clang,” “crash,” and “roar” to represent the sounds of the bells ringing. He continues:

By the twanging,
      And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows;
      Yet the ear distinctly tells,
        In the jangling,
        And the wrangling.

Adding even more onomatopoeia with “twanging,” “clanging,” “jangling,” and “wrangling.” The onomatopoeia provides tangible examples of the sound of the bells, rather than describing the sound through comparison or extraneous description.

Other poems that use onomatopoeia include “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” by Robert Browning, “Weather” by Eve Merriam and “For the Bird Singing before Dawn” by Kim Stafford.