Skip to content

Onomatowhatnow? Learn 40 Funny Sound Words from Around the World

Words formed from the sound they make are the pow-boom-bang bomb.

Josey Miller · about 1 month ago

  • travel
GettyImages-812964396

Getty

Ever heard the word “onomatopoeia”? It’s pronounced on-oh-maht-oh-pee-ya, and it describes any word that sounds like what it means. For example, the squeak of a mouse, the meow a cat makes, or the slam of a door are all onomatopoeias. 

You might think onomatopoeias would be pronounced the same way around the world — since the sounds themselves are obviously identical. But interestingly enough, the meow of a cat in American becomes miao in France and Italy, yaong in Korea, and miyav in Turkey. 

So consider this your “cockle-doodle-do” wake-up call — or should we say, your “tsoo-ghoo-roo-ghoo” wake-up call, since that’s how they say it in Armenian? We hope this list won’t make you “ron pshi” (the “snore” sound in French): Get ready to laugh your e-i-e-i-o off learning about different sound-words from around the world — singing "Old McDonald Had a Farm" will never be the same!

"Squeak" Goes the Mouse ... Or Is It "Cheek"?

mouse

Getty

In Hebrew, “cleek cleek” isn't what you say when tapping glasses after a toast — it’s the sound of a mouse, known in English as “squeak.” Similarly, mice say “cheek cheek” in Poland — so cheeky. “Pip pip” in Swedish makes sense for the sound of pipsqueak rodents, as does “squitt” in Italian (not far from “squeak”). But mice say “chuu” in Japanese and “jjik” in Korean? Holy squeak.

"Ding-Dong" Means Get the Door — Or Is It “Kan Ban”?

GettyImages-123992996

Getty

The sound of a doorbell or church bell in other countries is pretty different from “ding dong” in English, but at least we all seem to agree that the ringing is a two-part process: It’s “bim bam” in Dutch and “kan ban” in Greek, for example. Funny enough, two Portuguese-speaking countries don’t agree on this onomatopoeia, though: They say “dlim dlão” in Portugal and "dim dom" in Brazil. Now can someone please get the door already?

The Pig Says "Oink" ... Or Maybe "Hunk"?

GettyImages-496514969

Getty

Old MacDonald had a pig. Ee-i-ee-i-o! With a “buu” in Japan. And a “nöff in Sweden. Here in Albania a “hunk.” There in South Africa an “ogch”. Everywhere a “grunz” “grunz” (okay, fine, just in Germany). Stop, I'm laughing so hard I'm snorting ... or should I say "ogching."

"Tick-Tock" Goes the Clock — Unless It Tells Time as "Katchin Katchin"

GettyImages-986717272

Getty

Well, would you just look at the time! When hickory-dickory-dock the mouse runs up the clock in other languages, it doesn’t hear “tick tock” when it strikes one, like it does in English — although “tik tik” in Hindi is pretty darn close. The clock sounds like “dī dā” in Mandarin and “katchin katchin” in Japanese. And “tic tac” in Italian and Spanish makes us want to pop some breath mints.

Bam, Boom, Bang, Kapow! Or ... Bumpt Bum Pokšt!

superhero kids

Getty

Want to sound like an international comic book superhero? Your speech bubbles would say “ba bakh!” or “pif paf!” in Russian and “dor!” in Indonesia. The Italian and French versions aren’t far from each other: “bum pum!” and “boum pan!” respectively. But we’re banging our heads at the Estonian translation: “põmm kõmm pauh karpauh!” as well as the Lithuanian: “bumpt bum pokšt!” Totally blown away!

Fido, Speak! "Voff Voff!"

GettyImages-1147978283

Getty

Dogs who bark in multiple languages are truly the good-est dogs. Human’s best friends say “wai wai” in Nigeria and “voff voff” in Icelandic (like “woof woof” in English sorta?) and “av av” in Serbia (like “arf arf” in English sorta?)… But “hong hong” in Thai and “guk guk” in Indonesian, really? You’re yanking our dog-chain.

Ready to "Plic Ploc" in the Bathtub?

GettyImages-899910236

Getty

Remember the old Bobby Darin song Splish-splash I was taking a bath...? Well, it might have gone “krapt krapt, I was taking a bath” in Lithuanian (yup). Or maybe “Huá huá, I was taking a bath” makes you want to dance the Mashed Potato? “Plitsch platsch” in German and “plic ploc” in French aren’t quite as far from the English “splish splash,” but none of these super-soaker onomatopoeias are watered down.

Crow Like a Rooster — Or "Kukeleku" Like One

GettyImages-1175452953

Getty

If you say “cockle doodle doo” to a rooster in other countries, you’ll really confuse him (and you do not want to make a rooster angry). If you’re really looking to communicate with the king of the farm, say “kukeleku” in South Africa. You’ll want to greet a rooster in Colombian with “kikiriki”, “cocorico” in French, and “ko ke kok ko o” in Japanese — so there’s agreement in all those languages that rooster-speak starts with a K-type sound. But in Turkish? Not so much. There roosters say “ü-ürü-ü”. And there you have it: “Cockle doodle doo” is for the (English-speaking) birds.