Certain words have plagued me for years because I have difficulty spelling, pronouncing or defining them. Rythym is a word I can never spell correctly on the first try. (I’m sure I didn’t succeed just now.) The dictionary is no help for a word like rithym. It’s too difficult to look up if you’re only sure the first letter is R and the rest is a mystery.
Another challenging word is spelled “Worcestershire” on the sauce bottles which is helpful unless the supermarket’s sauce shelf is Worcestershireless and I have to ask a clerk to see if there are any in the back room. “Wursetusshyer, sir? I don’t think we carry that brand.”
“No, no,” I say. “I might be mispronouncing it. How about Worstershirt or Wootersire?” And so it goes until I give up and settle for soy sauce.
“Onomatopoeia” was once my third most worrisome word. A poet I interviewed spelled it for me. (I’m okay with the pronunciation. I remember it almost rhymes with “On a mat I could see ya.”) She explained it refers to words invented to represent familiar sounds like gurgle and squeak, so when you read those words, you hear those sounds and, BOOM! I finally got the meaning. What a great way to add another dimension to every kind of writing! Our language has been enriched by onomatopoeia words. It’s especially useful for short story writers where every word counts. Read (and listen to) the following paragraph.
“He held the pan over the crackling wood fire, sloshing the two eggs from side to side while the bacon sizzled in the bubbling grease. Sighing nervously, he checked the clock on the cabin wall, ticking away what might be his final hour.” Don’t you feel you’re there in that cabin, whether or not you want to be, eyes and ears wide open, waiting for something to happen? Listen! Someone is now wrenching the oak door off it’s hinges and the dog is howling!
Onomatopoeia is sometimes invented on the spot, but it’s usually already part of our vocabualary by popular demand. The people decided that “ping pong” was a much better name than “table tennis” and “slide fasteners” soon gave way to “zippers”. Noise words are being created every day to add more color to our language and to keep up with technology. We “zap” annoying TV commercials and once, when decency prevailed, foul language was “bleeped” from the audio.
Here are some entries I read in a short story: “The ‘cleek-cleek-pop’ of the gum-chewing waitress almost drowned out the subdued argument of the couple in the next booth as they ‘hisspered’ to each other.”
Not all onomatopoeias are equal, especially if invented in different countries. Taiwan ducks don’t quack, they go “gua, gua” and, if you buy a clock in Tokyo, it won’t tick tock. It will go “katchin,katchin”. If you stop over in Hong Kong on the way home, you’ll notice the new clock’s sound has changed to “dye-dah”. Go figure.
When a Parisian comes home from work, his faithful dog greets him with a loud and friendly “ouah,ouah!” My late, beloved dog Molly knew only “bow wow”. I thought it would be cool to teach her to bark in French, but it was hopeless, even with the cue cards. Molly managed to mimic the sound but she just couldn’t match the rhthym.

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