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Pan-Pan!: French vs. English Onomatopoeias Posted by on Apr 14, 2014 in Vocabulary

The word onomatopée (onomatopoeia) has been floating around the Internet as of late and I thought it would be fun to devote a post to French onomatopoeias vs. their English counterparts.

What is an onomatopoeia? An onomatopoeia is a word meant to mimic a certain sound made by un humain (a human), un animal (an animal) or un objet (an object). The spelling of an onomatopoeia should sound as close as possible to the actual sound it is trying to imitate.

The word itself comes from two Ancient Greek words: onoma meaning name, and poieo meaning to produce.

So let’s run through a few onomatopoeias in both French and English to give us an idea of how people hear things differently. You’ll find a number of these in both French and English bandes dessinées (comic books), dessins animés (cartoons) and livres pour enfants (children’s books). Keep in mind that there can be several onomatopoeias for the same sound but these are just some of the more popular ones.

The first onomatopoeia will be in French and the second in English.

Human Sounds:

1. Sleep: ron-ron vs. zzzzzzz

2. Sneeze: atchoum vs. achoo

3. Expression of pain: aïe! vs. ouch!

4. Crying baby: ouin-ouin vs. wah-wah

5. Drinking: glou-glou vs. slurp/glug

6. Beating heart: poum-poum vs. thump-thump

7. Hushing: chut vs. shh

 

Animal Sounds:

1. Rooster: cocorico vs. cock-a-doodle-doo

2. Pig: groin-groin vs. oink-oink

3. Bird: cui-cui vs. tweet-tweet

4. Duck: coin-coin vs. quack-quack

5. Frog: croac-croac vs. ribit/croak

6. Snake: siff vs. hiss/sss

7. Owl: ouh-ouh vs. hoo-hoo

 

Sounds made by objects:

1. Clock: tic-tac vs. tick-tock

2. Ambulance siren: pin-pon vs. wee-woo

3. Gun firing: pan-pan! vs. bang-bang!

4. Car door slamming: vlan! vs. wham!

5. Water dripping: plic-plic vs. drip-drip

6. Doorbell ringing: dingue-dongue vs. ding-dong

7. Telephone ringing: dring-dring vs. ring-ring

 

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Comments:

  1. nick:

    What a great list!
    I found it as I wondered what the French equivalent of “gulp” was. So as a noun, this can mean “the motion of swallowing” but it can also be the onomatopoeic expression of the actual noise, For example: I have to go to the dentists tomorrow. Gulp! Still, hopefully no fillings.. According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cross-linguistic_onomatopoeias it is “gloups” however I wonder if that can stand alone, as in English..
    🙂

  2. Landolphe D'Aquin:

    How about: “swish-whosh” “scritch-scratch” “plop”?

  3. Landolphe D'Aquin:

    “A stomach growling from hunger” “a hatchling chick cracking open its egg” “pitter-patter (of little feet)” ??

  4. Frederic:

    Comic books should come up with an onomatopoeia to designate the word “onomatopoeia”, that way it will be way easier to pronounce it haha!

  5. Thomas Bergbusch:

    This is an interesting piece, but it uses onomatopoeia, I believe, in the French sense (onomatopée), but in English an onomatopoeia is usually an accepted, grammatical correct word. Thus, wikipedia says “the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named (e.g., cuckoo, sizzle ).” Cuckoo and sizzle are both legitimate and recognized words. Or take a word like “thunder”.

    So, to an extent, “onomatopée” and “onomatopoeia” are “fausses amies”