Onomatopoeia

I’ve now been living in Tokyo for a little over 2 years!  To celebrate this milestone (okay, fine, the milestone is just a coincidence; this blog post has nothing to do with it), I thought I’d share something I find delightful in the Japanese language, and that is its onomatopoeia.

Just like English, Japanese has words which are formed “from a sound associated with what is named.”  They are very often repeated.  Here are some examples of their words for sounds:

  • wan wan: a dog’s bark
  • nyan nyan: a cat’s meow
  • zaa zaa: heavy rain falling
  • mogu mogu: someone eating (maybe like omnomnom?)

However, Japanese also makes ample use of onomatopoetic words for things where the connection to a sound is less obvious, such as:

  • dan dan: gradually (the sound of footsteps)
  • don don: quickly (the sound of larger footsteps)
  • doki doki: nervous/excited (the sound of a fast heart beat)

And I mean waaay less obvious.  Ever wondered what sound something sparkling sounds like?

  • kira kira: sparkling, twinkling
  • peko peko: hungry (the sound your stomach makes as it gurgles perhaps?)
  • fuwa fuwa: fluffy
  • giri giri: barely

I think one of the things I love about these words (and there are oodles more) is the fact that they’re often used in casual conversation among adults.  Just this afternoon, as I was watching the Olympic men’s free skate while eating lunch at a restaurant, one of the women at the table next to me used the phrase doki doki shimasu to her companion, expressing the nerves/excitement of watching the athletes do breathtaking quadruple jumps.

Comments 2

  1. Tandava wrote:

    Ha! I’m eating breakfast as I read this, and totally hearing mogu mogu in my head. :-) I also like fuwa fuwa, which sounds like petting a cat.

    Posted 17 Feb 2018 at 07:48
  2. Sandra wrote:

    My favorites (that you haven’t mentioned yet) off the top of my head:

    ぺらぺら (pera-pera) – speaking fluently (in a foreign language)
    むしむし (mushi-mushi) – unpleasantly warm
    ぐーたら (guutara) – not having energy to do anything (I assume this is part of the source for Gudetama’s name)
    わくわく(waku-waku) – excited
    こけこっこ (koke-kokko) – the sound of a rooster :)

    Posted 20 Feb 2018 at 07:30

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