Home Columns Anantha Narayan Telling sounds

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While everyone else surrenders to the overpowering imagery and the sensory delights of the unfolding plot, my eyes prefer to soak in the poetry of the written word. I particularly relish the sound descriptions that set the tone for things to come.
When the lift bell dings, when the wind howls, when the leaves rustle, when the footsteps go clickety-clack, when the shotgun is cocked with a schklikt, and bullets fly all around rat-a-tat-tat, an opera of onomatopoeias play out on the screen.
In case ‘onomatopoeia’ felt like an immensely forgettable entry from the Barron’s GRE Word List, it’s Greek for ‘name-making’ and in plain English, it cues ‘a word that mimics a sound associated with the action designated’. Comic books are full of it. Who can forget the ‘Badaboom’ explosion, the ‘Thith-thith-thith’ helicopter whirr, and the perfect punch ‘Kapow’?
Onomatopoeias have been around since eternity. The Sanskrit ‘Om’ is considered one. The Tamil crow (‘kaka’) is simply an echo of the bird sound. Our own Bollywood ‘dishoom’ is of recent vintage. Even our daily lingo is replete with written sounds: ‘tuk tuk’ for auto, ‘khat-khat’ for knocking, ‘tick-tock’ for the flow of time, ‘padapadppu’ for palpitation, ‘chomp chomp’ for munching, and ‘pitter-patter’ for rain.
Children love repetition. That’s probably why onomatopoeias are used as a memory device in making them remember rhymes. If you recollect ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’, the moo-moos, the quack-quacks and the oink-oinks will be embedded in your mind as if you learnt it yesterday.
The obvious attraction of catchiness has made onomatopoeias the go-to literary device for most name smiths. When ‘Refreshing Mints’ wanted some zing in their name, they rechristened the brand as ‘Tic Tac’ after the distinctive clicking sound that the pack makes when it’s opened and closed.
When Noah Glass was looking to name his killer creation, he considered Friendstalker and Twitch before zeroing in on Twitter, derived from how birds go ‘tweet-tweet’. Microsoft’s search engine ‘Bing’ was launched by pitching the name as the ‘sound of found’. The humble hawai chappals are internationally known as ‘flip-flops’ after the noise that the rubber soles make when they slap against your feet.
So if you want your cash registers to go ‘ka-ching’, maybe it’s time to opt for a ‘Boing Boing’.

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