Help me find literary term(s) for words that are ALMOST onomatopoeic
April 30, 2014 3:36 PM   Subscribe

When pronounced verbally, these words evoke the subject they describe, even to those unfamiliar with their definition- not by aural similarities to an action (like "bam", "biff", "pow", or "cockadoodledoo"), but through less overt means, such as cultural or literary associations with certain sounds (like the comic value of the second syllable in "galumphing") or the image of letters in the words (such as the "z" in "zig-zag")?
posted by t(h)om(as) to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Sound symbolism?
posted by damayanti at 3:43 PM on April 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by harrumph at 3:48 PM on April 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here's a poem about it.

Blackberry Eating

I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry -- eating in late September.

Galway Kinnell
posted by third rail at 4:00 PM on April 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've always thought that a lot of the "gl" words having to do with light - glisten, gleam, glow, glitter - sound like what they're describing.
posted by darchildre at 4:05 PM on April 30, 2014

Likewise "shimmer" and "shine." Tromp, tramp, trample, troop, trek too.
posted by Smells of Detroit at 6:15 PM on April 30, 2014

(I believe the OP is looking for a term to describe such words, not examples of such words.)
posted by alms at 6:51 PM on April 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here's a Guide to Phonesthemic Initial Sounds in English.
posted by spbmp at 8:33 PM on April 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

According to Wikipedia (on a page linked to from its "sound symbolism" article- thanks, damayanti), both onomatopoeia and the examples of sound symbolism I described belong to a larger category of morphemes known as ideophones. That sort of satisfies my curiosity as an armchair linguist (is that redundant?), but it'd be nice to know if there are narrower terms to describe, specifically, the features of the examples I gave. Anyone?
posted by t(h)om(as) at 11:21 PM on April 30, 2014

In his novel Pnin, Nabokov wrote that a manual pencil sharpener made a sound like "Ticonderoga, Ticonderoga".
posted by SemiSalt at 5:20 PM on May 7, 2014

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