Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


I don't remember ever consciously thinking about it, but I was only reading comic books a minute before I knew that Cyclops' optic blasts go ZARKT, Wolverine's claws go SKNITT when they come out, or my personal favorite, Nightcrawler goes BAMF when he teleports.
Man, if I went bamf when I teleported, I'd teleport all day. Of course, teleportation in his case smells like brimstone, so my house would kinda smell.
So not the point.
The point is you don't think much about onomatopoeia until you think about it. But it's not just bam and pow and comic books. I love susurus, the muttering or whispering sound made by a crowd of people.
And this from Shakespeare's Henry V makes my brain do a little happy dance:
The Dauphin of France has sent King Henry V a gag gift - a box of tennis balls, meant to ridicule him by pointing out that he's young. Henry responds thusly:
And tell the pleasant prince this mock of his
Hath turn'd his balls to gun-stones; and his soul
Shall stand sore charged for the wasteful vengeance
That shall fly with them: for many a thousand widows
Shall this his mock mock out of their dear husbands;
Mock mothers from their sons, mock castles down;
And some are yet ungotten and unborn
That shall have cause to curse the Dauphin's scorn.
See how he uses mock over and over to imitate the sound of a tennis ball? Delicious.
But as it turns out, the Japanese have us beat in this, as with so many other things. In Japan, bells go jan jan. Heavy rain goes za za, medium rain goes potsu potsu, and drizzle goes shito shito. Dude, read that noise out loud. It's a dance party in your mouth.
Now what's cool about Japanese, I just learned from the essay From Za-za to san-san: The Climate of Japanese Onomatopoeia by David Galef, is that the onomatopoeia isn't constrained to just sound effects. When something rolls, it goes goro-goro, from the sound that a barrel makes when it rolls. A smile goes niko-niko, and if you can say niko-niko without smiling, then you're a better man than I. Stars, it seems, go pika-pika.
Which leads me to my favorite word fact of the day. The name Pikachu is a portmanteau of pika-pika, the word for sparkle, and chu, the sound a mouse makes.

Really? Now I'm expected to go to sleep without looking up the etymologies of the other Pokemon names? 


Anthony said...

I wanted to say that the most interesting re-used sound from Marvel comics in that era was krakka-thoom, but then you cheated by going all Henry V serious, and then talking about portmanteau words. Portmanteau words are too important to be saying krakka-thoom near. But I'm speaking as a Dodgson enthusiast, so I can be safely ignored in polite company.

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

Yeah, but I brought it back around to Pokemon, so it's ok.