5 Scenes From History That Everyone Pictures Incorrectly The 4 Most Baffling Driving Behaviors Everyone Encounters 5 Movies That Made Huge Stars Quit Acting Forever

10 Common Words You Had No Idea Were Onomatopoeias

Whether it's the "Pow!" of Batman punching somebody in the face or the "Whop!" of somebody punching Batman in the face, onomatopoeias are everywhere in our culture. They're a fundamental building block of all language, and it's easy to see why: Simply transcribing a sound is the most straightforward, logical way to coin a new word for an unfamiliar thing. But sound and transcription are both very subjective things, so for every blockbuster classic like "bonk," there are 10 more words you use every day that you had no idea were onomatopoeias, because, well, they're kind of dumb. Kind of dumb like these!

#10. Cliche

What it means:

A trite and overused phrase. Like "A dark and stormy night" or "Time heals all wounds" or "Did you drink all my nail polisher remover?"

What the hell is it supposed to sound like?

The forging of a metal printing press plate.

Getty
Above: Either a printing press or some form of ancient torture device.

Huh?

The word "cliche" doesn't derive from any Latin word or even any prior French word. Actually, as legend has it, a group of printers back in 1800s France got the idea to save time by forging common phrases onto a single plate instead of writing out every line of text word-by-word. In English, these plates are referred to as stereotypes.

Wikipedia
"Cliche" is the word you hallucinate when you sleep with too many people's wives and disparage their countries, France.

So when you utter a cliche, you're saying something that is so unoriginal that there's actually a prepared mold to represent it. And when you unjustly "stereotype" a person or race, what you're really doing is "forging them onto a French printing press plate." You monster.

#9. Blimp

What it means:

A big ol' balloon. People ride in it. Mostly just mustachioed villains these days.

What the hell is it supposed to sound like?

Someone slapping the outside of a fully-inflated dirigible.

Huh?

What most people know as a blimp is more technically (correctly) known as a dirigible, or a non-rigid airship. The word "blimp" only came about in 1915, when Lt. A.D. Cunningham of the British Royal Navy Air Service decided to strike the side of a royal airship with his thumb, and it made a sound that he interpreted as "blimp." Which was a pretty ballsy move, considering how fragile dirigibles were back in the day.

Wikipedia
"Oh my God. Oh Jesus, I only tapped it. I'm so sorry."

Cunningham liked the sound so much that he repeated it incessantly. Inexplicably, his Royal Navy Air buddies were so entertained by Cunningham's insane mutterings that they repeated the story to other officers, instead of drowning him in unsalted water, as British Maritime Law demands.

#8. Sneeze

What it means:

That thing you do where part of your soul escapes through your nose.

What the hell is it supposed to sound like?

A person sneezing. Imagine that.

Huh?

You're an Anglo-Saxon. It's the eighth century. You have swords and ships and mead and like, no regard for the sanctity of consonants. If somebody sneezed, how would you transcribe the sound?

Wikipedia
Fjord?

You have to use an "S" or two in the word, sure, but otherwise -- fuck it. You're a damn Viking. Somebody's gonna correct your spelling? Do something crazy. Put some "F"s in there. Yeah, like, right next to some "N"s. Just to see if anybody says anything, so you can bash their face in for it.

That's how we got the early words "fneosan" and "fnese."

Wikipedia
"Fneosan! What? SAY SOMETHING, BITCH."

Unfortunately, history's pansies won out in the end and messed up one of language's greatest onomatopoeias. On early Old English manuscripts, an "F" looked very similar to an "S," and since the "FN" phoneme was too balls-in-your-eye awesome for the average reader, they assumed that "fneosan" and "fnese" were "sneosan" and "snese." Eventually, the word modernized, and became the present-day "sneeze."

And now nobody's face gets bashed in at all.

We call this progress?

Getty
Society went to hell as soon as people stopped carrying axes on a daily basis.

#7. Laugh

What it means:

To express amusement vocally. Hopefully you are familiar with this term, otherwise you likely find this article every bit as confusing as you do infuriating.

What the hell is it supposed to sound like?

A person actually laughing. Like this: "What a good joke you have just told: I too disrespect the Nordic peoples! Laughlaughlaugh."

Getty
Apparently "NORDIC" is the sound your hand makes when striking someone's sarcastic little face.

Huh?

Around the fifth century, early Europeans used the word "hlaehhan" to indicate laughter. It was pure and logical onomatopoeia: Crash some Old English throat abuse into the nasally intoned "ha ha" from The Simpsons' Nelson Muntz, and you've got a pretty good idea what early European merriment sounded like. But the word went through so many abbreviations and modernizations over the years -- mostly to remove all the superfluous letters and to not sound quite so much like Fran Drescher being put in a choke hold -- that its modern form, "laugh," is now practically unrecognizable.

Later in 1720, the Scots found themselves in a similar predicament, when the modern "laugh" onomatopoeia didn't quite capture the spirit of a hearty Scottish chortle. To remedy this problem, they created the word guffaw, and were quickly and brutally subjugated by the English for their grammatical heresy.

Wikipedia
Oh look, there's even a chart to depict the joyful act of laug -- arrgh kill it!

#6. Bumblebee

What it means:

A fuzzy and/or wuzzy insect. Possibly named Christopher the Bee.

What the hell is it supposed to sound like?

Buzzing.

Huh?

Before it became known as the bumblebee, nature's Augustus Gloop was referred to as either the humblebee or the dumbledor, because of its modest nature and wizardly powers (?). In the early 1500s, a poet decided to mix things up and use the Middle English word "bombyll" in his poem, because mo-fo's back in the 1-5s straight didn't give a f...olly. But in actuality, all three of these prefixes -- "humble," "dumble" and "bombyll" -- were attempting to imitate the buzz of a bee.

Getty
This is all a trick by the bees to make them sound adorable.

For those wondering why J.K. Rowling decided to name a main character in the Harry Potter novels after an archaic word for bumblebee, she once explained she "imagined him walking around humming to himself a lot." She settled on "Dumbledor" because "Professor Whackjob" was a little unflattering, and "Professor Hummingbird" apparently made him sound like too much of a hippie.

  • Random

Recommended For Your Pleasure

To turn on reply notifications, click here

633 Comments

The Cracked Podcast

Choosing to "Like" Cracked has no side effects, so what's the worst that could happen?

The Weekly Hit List

Sit back... Relax... We'll do all the work.
Get a weekly update on the best at Cracked. Subscribe now!