Dictionary of Comics Onomatopoeia.

Well, there isn’t one. But there should be! That’s the conclusion of this Izvestia story (by Evgenia Korobkova — thanks, Sashura!), which is so wonderful it’s worth stumbling through it via Google Translate if you don’t read Russian. It starts off talking about how translators usually just transliterate English onomatopoeia: “beng,” “kresh,” “bems,” “vaw,” and so forth. Then comes the good part: translators from the Vinogradov Center of Comics and Visual Culture are calling for localized onomatopoeia using the resources of minority languages, such as Lezgin “khurt” (‘swallow’) for the sound of drinking water, Armenian “sssurch” (‘coffee’) for the sound of gulping hot liquid, and instead of “vaw” (= “wow”) to use Abaza “UAA,” Lezgin “yo,” or “vababay,” which is apparently what they say in Makhachkala. And, best of all, from Mari: “Galdyrdyms” for something big falling, “duberdyms” for something medium, and “tsingeldyms” for something small or made of glass. I strongly support these suggestions and the call for a dictionary, though I have to agree with editor Artyom Gabrelyanov that “to talk seriously about using ‘vababay’ instead of ‘wow’ is not necessary.” Thanks, Andy!


  1. This brings to mind a comment by the translator of the Asterix comics, originally published in French. The example was a scene with several drunken Roman legionaries passed out on the floor. The word bubbles in French had the French sound usually associated with a drunken hiccup (which I’ve forgotten, other than it starting with “h” and being four letters.) The English shifts the first to “hic,” which is the usual English for that situation, but then continues with “haec” and “hoc.”

    Definitely funnier than simply going “hic,” “hic,” “hic,” which a straight translation from the French would suggest.

  2. Yes, Asterix is the gold standard for this sort of thing.

  3. La Horde Listener says

    Yes. After that, bring on the lexicon of comics sound effects. “Boing! Boyoiyoiyoing!” for springing, “Splat!” for when something gets whacked by a flyswatter, etc. Cartoonist Don Martin coined a couple specially obscure ones, including a kind of “f-f-flump” or something for when Wonder Woman doffed her wonder bustier.

  4. Actually, there does seem to be a dictionary of comic onomatopoeia: “Ka-BOOM!: A Dictionary of Comic Book Words, Symbols & Onomatopoeia” http://bit.ly/1TKJ0fo

    I doubt it’s comprehensive, but it seems to have quite a lot in there.

  5. marie-lucie says

    Astérix and hiccups:

    The French word for “hiccup” (noun) is le hoquet, the verb “to hiccup” is avoir le hoquet but I don’t know a standard onomatopeia for the sound. I don’t have a copy of the book, but in the “Roman” context, Latin hoc would be an obvious choice. Anyone can recover the French original?

  6. Actually, there does seem to be a dictionary of comic onomatopoeia

    You know, I actually worried for a moment about that when writing the post, but was too lazy to look it up. Thanks for doing the legwork!

  7. David Marjanović says

    GOR GOL GLOUUC ¡GROJFF! is the sound of puking out of the window in Spanish.

  8. I can see the fun of translating the onomatopoeia, but I like the transliterated versions too… it gives a little flavor of the foreignness of the original text.

  9. Back in 2005, I went to a art exhibition at London’s National Maritime Museum, showing original art from the many sea-going stories Herge wrote about Tintin. The cartoonist’s extensive research for these stories was on show too. One surprising insight was how important it is to translate a comic’s sound effects well. The show illustrated this point with a panel from The Red Sea Sharks showing Captain Haddock toppling off a raft into the sea. They accompanied this with a rotating dial showing how the English sound effect (“SPLOSH”) had been translated into many different European languages: “XAAAAP” in Catalan, “PLATSCH” in German, “PLASK” in Icelandic, “FLOUTCH” in French and so on.

    Here the issue’s a cultural one of choosing which particular sound effect that particular country traditionally associates with someone falling in the water. English readers would find that Catalan “XAAAAP” very disconcerting if it popped up in an English-language Tintin volume, and be pulled out of the story as a result. Presumably, a Catalan reader would be equally puzzled by “SPLOSH” – even though the sound itself is the same the world over. I was very impressed that Herge and his publishers went that extra mile to get even this little detail right.

  10. David Marjanović says

    I can see the fun of translating the onomatopoeia, but I like the transliterated versions too… it gives a little flavor of the foreignness of the original text.

    Indeed; I cited from a German translation that leaves the sound effects intact except for usually painting over the ¡. Renderings that wouldn’t occur to anyone writing in German are preserved this way; for example, being beaten up is e. g. PAF BOM TUNDA TUNDA CRAFT, which would be unconsciously avoided because of Kraft “physical force/power”.

    Interestingly, the original contains more or less English sound effects beyond the widely known BOOM and BANG: being set ablaze makes FLOASH – using a sound that isn’t available to Spanish –, igniting and immediately burning down makes WHAM.

    Naturally, Spanish, too, has resources unavailable to most other languages. And so, we find ÑIGO ÑIGO ÑIGO ÑIGO where German couldn’t do any better than QUIETSCH.

  11. I seem to recollect that the Romans say “hips!” when hiccuping in the original French editions.

  12. Here is a compilation of Don Martin’s sound effects.

  13. “vababay,” which is apparently what they say in Makhachkala.

    Makes me think of Arabic ya bay ~ ya baye, from ya abuy ‘my father’, an expression of emotional surprise, also borrowed into Israeli Hebrew.

  14. The author of the story in Izvestia is Евгения Коробкова (Evgenia Korobkova), it’s given above the article. Some newspaper sites are laid out in such a way that it’s difficult to see author’s name.

  15. Another side of the proposal, apart from borrowing from minority languages, is the reasoning behind it. They say that it’s ‘unpatriotic’ to use transliterations of American onomatopoetic interjections. Which has caused a stir and a lot of giggles in Russian discussions.

  16. Dictionary… there isn’t one
    he-he, the first commenter to the Izvestia article points out that there are at least three in existence, a Russian, an English-Russian and a German-Russian.

  17. La Horde Listener says

    Whoa… commenter Y really DID bring on the lexicon of Don Martin’s comics sound effects! Language Hat: where one’s wildest dreams come true! A veritable Sampo dynamic {8-0 And David M? Aha! That must be why D. Boswell used “Kraft!” for Reid Fleming (world’s toughest milkman)’s frequent milk truck crashes, it has a basis in German language. I thought he just made it up.

  18. If you like Kraft!, you may like the sound effects in Tim Hensley’s Wally Gropius, whose protagonist is the richest boy in the world. It’s packed with money-based sound effects: the tickertape machine goes “kopeck, kopeck”, a slamming door goes “Forbes”, etc.

  19. La Horde Listener says


  20. David Marjanović says

    a slamming door goes “Forbes”

    Day saved.

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