Onomatopoeia in Film and TV. Meaning, Definition & Examples


Definition: Onomatopoeia is a linguistic term where a word phonetically imitates, resembles, or suggests the sound it represents. Fx words like “buzz” or “crash” emulate the sounds associated with their meanings.

Examples of Common Onomatopoeias

common onomatopoeia examples. Ding-Dong. Illustrative example.

Here are 12 examples of onomatopoeia in common language. As you’ll see, many of these appear in movie dialogue and songs and are even written on screen:

  1. Buzz – the sound bees and other insects make.
  2. Crash – the sound of a collision or something breaking.
  3. Ding-dong – the sound of a doorbell.
  4. Meow – the sound a cat makes.
  5. Woof – the sound a dog makes.
  6. Splash – the sound of something hitting water.
  7. Tick-tock – the sound of a clock ticking.
  8. Sizzle – the sound of something frying.
  9. Chirp – the sound small birds make.
  10. Bang – a loud noise, often associated with a door slamming or a gun firing.
  11. Beep – the sound of a horn or electronic device.
  12. Clink – the sound of glass or metal objects touching.

Examples of Onomatopoeia in Movies and TV shows

Onomatopoeia in movies and tv shows. Manga BLAM example. Illustrative image.

Since synchronized sound (sound perfectly matched with visuals) was first introduced in 1927 by Warner Bros. with the release of the feature-length film The Jazz Singer, movies have been a truly audio-visual medium.

This means that audio fills in for most places you might find onomatopoeia, i.e., why write “bang” when you can hear the sound of the gun?

That hasn’t stopped some filmmakers from exploring the medium’s possibilities, which is most prevalent in comic book adaptions.

Onomatopoeia in comic book adaptions.

Perhaps one of the most iconic uses of onomatopoeia in television history can be found in the 1960s “Batman” series starring Adam West.

During fight scenes, brightly colored words like “Bam!”, “Pow!” and “Zap!” would pop up on the screen, mimicking the sounds of Batman and Robin’s punches and kicks.

This creative use of onomatopoeia added a comic-book feel to the action, making it memorable and distinct.

In Batman (1989), the Joker (Jack Nicholson) uses the famous flag gun with the onomatopoeia “Bang” to scare Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger):

Onomatopoeia in movie dialogue

As it is a linguistic term, onomatopoeia mostly appears in movie dialogue when a character uses common onomatopoeia, such as “knock-knock,” “woof-woof,” or “ding-dong.”

Onomatopoeia in movie soundtracks

Onomatopeia may also appear as part of the music soundtrack – or, in the case of musicals, as part of the diegetic on-screen lyrics.

Fx, the soundtrack to Kill Bill includes the song “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) by Nancy Sinatra, which is used in the opening credits.

Onomatopoeia in musicals

The musical Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), starring Judy Garland singing “The Trolley Song,” features several examples of onomatopoeia in the choruses.

Have a look at some of these examples from The Trolley Song (1944):

Chorus 1:
Clang, clang, clang went the trolley 
Ding, ding, ding went the bell 
Zing, zing, zing went my heart strings 
For the moment I saw her I fell

Chorus 2:
Chug, chug, chug went the motor 
Thump, thump, thump went the brake 
Thump, thump, thump went my heart strings 
When she smiled I could feel the car shake

Chorus 3:
Oh, buzz, buzz, buzz went the buzzer 
Pop, pop, pop went the wheels 
Stop, stop, stop went my heart strings 
As she started to go then I started to know how it feels 
When the universe reels 

Are sound effects in Movies Onomatopoeias?

I’ve seen multiple examples of film researchers and film-related websites, such as NFI, that include sound effects as a form of onomatopoeia.

For example, they might say the sound of the lightsabers, laser shots, or spaceships in Star Wars are onomatopoeias.

The argument seems to be that since these sounds are created to add realism to fictive objects, they can be considered onomatopoeias.

In my view, this is false!

Onomatopoeia is words that imitate or suggest the sound they represent, like “buzz” or “crash.” It is not the actual buzz of the lightsaber you can hear from the speakers and see on screen. Those are called sound effects!

You might also like Why You Should Understand Diegetic/Non-Diegetic Sound Design In Movies


Using onomatopoeia in film bridges the gap between storytelling’s auditory and visual aspects.

The strategic and creative use of onomatopoeia in film soundtracks, dialogue, and visual representations on-screen (like the 1960s Batman show) adds context and meaning to the narrative.

Onomatopoeia’s effectiveness lies in its simplicity and universality, proving that sometimes, the sounds we mimic can be as powerful as the words we speak, highlighting sound’s importance in storytelling.

Up Next: The Movie Montage. Meaning, Usage, and Famous Examples.


  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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