CHiPs, John or Punch by N-ino


They are Ghouls:
And their king it is who tolls;
And he rolls, rolls, rolls,

Edgar Allan Poe, The Bells

On a roof stand the swallows ranged in wistful waiting rows,
Till they arrow off and drop like stones

Thomas Hardy, On Sturminster Foot-bridge

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days

John Masefield, Cargoes

And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Alfred Noyes, The Highwayman

A sound in my head that I can’t describe
It’s sort of whack, whir, wheeze, whine
Sputter, splat, squirt, scrape
Clink, clank, clunk, clatter
Crash, bang, beep, buzz
Ring, rip, roar, retch
Twang, toot, tinkle, thud
Pop, plop, plunk, pow
Snort, snuk, sniff, smack
Screech, splash, squish, squeek
Jingle, rattle, squeel, boing
Honk, hoot, hack, belch

Todd Rundgren, Onomatopoeia

This pop-art painting by Roy Lichtenstein is done like a panel of a comic. The word Crak! sounds like its meaning – a rifle firing. That is called onomatopoeia.

In English we use onomatopoeia in music lyrics – like in Splish Splash (I was taking a bath) by Bobby Darin. And in poetry. From Shakespeare to e e cummings. And of course in comics!

But onomatopoeia, ideophones and mimetic words – including words for more abstract concepts that don’t have a sound – are very, very important in normal Japanese speaking and writing. Many of these words are made by reduplication – that sounds like a tautology but it means with repeating sounds – like bye-bye in English.

There are some glossaries in the links below but here are a few examples. Doki-doki means your heart is beating fast with excitement. Toki-doki means sometimes. Niko-niko means smiling. There are even some double reduplications(!). Kenken-gogo means an uproar. Kankan-gakugaku means a frank argument.

In the Japanese illustration of Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu BA is the sound of the air during the technique.

But maybe the best example for budo is giri-giri. At the limit. The last possible moment.


Edgar Allan Poe, The Bells (so that’s where the name rock ‘n’ roll came from…)
Edgar Allan Poe, The Complete Poetical Works free e-book

Thomas Hardy, On Sturminster Foot-bridge
Thomas Hardy, Moments of Vision and Miscellaneous Verses free e-book

John Masefield, Cargoes
John Masefield, Saltwater Ballads free e-book

Alfred Noyes, The Highwayman
Alfred Noyes, Collected Poems free e-book

William Shakespeare, Winter, from Love’s Labour’s Lost

e e cummings, hist whist

background articles

onomatopoia in Japanese

onomatopoeia in French

Bobby Darin, Splish Splash on youtube

Todd Rundgren, Onomatopoeia on youtube

Main photo: Roy Lichtenstein by rocor

Daito-ryu illustration: scan from Ueshiba Morihei Monogatari on the Aikido Sangenkai of Hawaii website

This post is published simultaneously on the aikido site aikiweb

I have an essay in a charity e-book put together by some writers and photographers to raise money for victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku on 11 March 2011. It costs $9.99.

© niall matthews 2012


  1. niall

    I also posted this on aikiweb: it came up in a comment on In Irish the craic which apparently came from Middle English crak! is a great time with your friends or large extended family. Which might involve music. And possibly Guinness.

  2. niall

    Thanks Carina. Perhaps kiai could be onomatopoeic – it’s a very interesting concept. A real kiai is shout or an exhalation from your centre. I should write about it separately one of these days. It’s a coincidence about your post. Some animals and birds have onomatopoeic names. In English we say dead as a dodo. That’s the reduplication!

    I remember learning about onomatopoeia at school. There are two adjectives from it: onomatopoeic and onomatopoetic – which you used. They are both right.

  3. Thank you Niall for this interesting article, I wondered if kiai is an onomatopoeia, I searched and found this
    Talking about onomatopoeia last month I made a post about the Hoopoe, whose name is also an onomatopoetic form which imitates the cry of the bird

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