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10 Common Words You Had No Idea Were Onomatopoeias

#5. Ping-Pong

What it means:

Table tennis. Just like regular tennis, but for the lazy and/or drunk.

What the hell is it supposed to sound like?

A hollow ball hitting parchment paddles.

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Which is weird, as we hear at least one smash and a scream whenever we play.

Huh?

Ping-Pong originated in Victorian England in the late 1800s, but it wasn't called Ping-Pong back then. It was called table tennis or lawn tennis, and it was played almost exclusively as a parlor game by people rich enough to know what a parlor is. The paddles weren't solid blocks of wood, like today; they were made of parchment stretched across frames, kind of like mini drums. Because various types of parchment and frame shapes lent each paddle a different sound, several onomatopoeias sprouted up: "Whiff-waff," "pom-pom," "pim-pam," and of course "ping-pong." Ping-Pong -- along with table tennis -- became the preferred name for the sport, presumably once people grew tired of the spontaneous and impromptu beatings that occurred every time the phrase "Fancy a round of pim-pam?" was spoken aloud.

#4. Poop

What it means:

To defecate.

What the hell is it supposed to sound like?

The sound of a horn. Get all of your "butt trumpet" jokes out of the way now, people.

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We're, ah ... actually drawing a blank here. Shit. Hey, there we go!

Huh?

In the late 14th century, people began using the word "poop" to mimic the sound of a horn being played. In 1721, after many years of intense, studious investigation, humanity discovered that when a person farts, it kind of sounds like a toot on some varieties of horn, maybe. In dire need of fart synonyms, "poop" was appropriated to refer to flatulence. In 1744 -- only 23 years later -- "poop" expanded into the lucrative shit-meaning business, and history was made.

Wikipedia
Also France declared war on Britain, but no, poop was where it was at.

One more time, for posterity: Poop.

Hehe.

#3. Buffoon

What it means:

A stupid person; what a disappointed grandfather would call his Internet comedian grandson. Theoretically.

What the hell is it supposed to sound like?

A person puffing out his cheeks.

Huh?

Buffoon started out as a type of dance in 1540. In 1580, it came to describe the clown -- the jerk, the asshole, the idiot, the ... comedian -- who typically did the dance. The word originally comes from the Italian "buffare," which is supposed to represent the sound of someone puffing out their cheeks. This was a comic gesture at the time, because it made the person doing it look foolish.

Wikipedia
Otherwise we couldn't tell whether they were supposed to look ridiculous or not.

Jesus.

Thank God comedy has evolved so much since then, right? We've really turned it into an art form, with vast and sophisticated audiences ready to heap their praise only on the most noble of wordsmiths, who educate even as they entertain.

Poop.

Hehehe.

#2. Owl

What it means:

A nocturnal bird. It eats mice, it doesn't have a neck, its head does that creepy Exorcist swivel thing? You know, it's like an ... it's like an owl, man. Dang. Describing things in abstract is hard.

What the hell is it supposed to sound like?

The hoot of said owl.

Huh?

This is another case of a word slowly losing its imitative origins through shortening and modernization. "Owl" originally comes from the Pre-Germanic word "uwwa," which was indeed pretty close to an owl's cry.

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It also sounds like it's slightly hungover, and we do claim to be experts in this field.

Cool. We're on board. Count us in.

But then some Old English asshole came along and added a suffix for no good reason, giving us the word "uwwalon," because he just had to show everybody how much more suave and articulate his bird noises were. Through abbreviation and phonetic spelling, we eventually wound up with the modern "owl," which doesn't sound like an owl at all.

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It sounds like a dying giraffe. No, no, remember: Experts.

If you do spot a nocturnal predator and it says "Owl, owl, owl," just turn and run as fast as you can. That is a criminal with poor impersonation skills trying to fool you.

#1. Marauder

What it means:

A person who roams around searching for things to raid and steal. Those guys from Mad Max and your stoner roommate spring immediately to mind.

What the hell is it supposed to sound like?

A cat's meow.

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After it has been hit by a brick, fallen off a fence and been shanghaied into the navy.

Huh?

"Marauder" didn't mean "roving plunderer" until sometime in the early 1700s. Originally, it was the dialectal French word "maraud," which was intended to mimic the sound of a cat -- more specifically, a horny tomcat. So it does make a kind of sense that the word became synonymous with somebody out late at night, looking for trouble. For a long time, "maraud" was only the French word for "prowler," but some claim it entered international parlance during the Thirty Years' War, when it gained popularity as a pun on the imperialist general Count Marode's name. His men -- known as the Marode Brothers -- were so ruthless, cowardly and vile that they may as well have been criminals, and so came to be referred to as marauders.

Wikipedia
Well, it's kind of funny, but surely "Murdering Kill Squad" would have warned people a little better.

They were awful and vicious, you see, so there was some ironic appeal to naming them essentially "the kittens." It's like calling a big man "tiny" or, more accurately, it's like calling "rapist murdering war criminals" a bunch of "sexy cats."

Andy Kneis is a writer, comedian and creator of things.

For more language lessons they won't teach you in school, check out 8 Racist Words You Use Every Day and 9 Words That Don't Mean What You Think.

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