I am discussing words which describe the sounds that domestic and wild cats make and which are based on those sounds. An “onomatopoeia” is a word describing a sound and the word itself evokes the sound that it is describing.
All the words used to label the sounds that wild and domestic cats make have been created with reference to the actual sound. They are, therefore, bound to be onomatopoeias provided they were created accurately 😉.
Of course, I am using the English language. I must take into account other languages. You will find, I believe, that cat sounds are also onomatopoeias in other languages. You will see a commonality in these languages when it comes to labelling cat sounds. For example, the meow in English is ‘miaou’ in French and Miauw in Dutch. Related post: How do cats say meow in Chinese?
The classic onomatopoeia for domestic cats is the word “meow”. When you say the word, it sounds like the vocalisation made by domestic cats when they are asking for something. Although, it must be said, that the domestic cat meow is a very elastic vocalisation by which I mean it varies tremendously depending upon the individual cat making the sound and the circumstances.
Another well-known feline sound is the “hiss”. When you say the word, you recreate to a certain extent the sound itself when it is uttered by your beautiful feline companion; particularly so when you extend it.
Is “chattering” an onomatopoeia? Cats do this when they are looking out the windows at a bird that they want to catch and kill. They chatter their jaws when practising the killing bite to the nape of the neck. I think that chattering qualifies, just, as an onomatopoeia. If you disagree then please leave a comment.
The “yowl” is an onomatopoeia. Say it out loud and long and you’ll see what I mean.
The word “spit” is also an onomatopoeia. Say it sharply and you’ll probably spit at the same time 😁.
Of course, we can’t forget the “purr”, which as expected, is also an onomatopoeia.
I am struggling to think of another but that’s probably down to my memory. I can think of many onomatopoeias for the sounds that wild cats make. I think the “gurgle” is an onomatopoeia. When you say it, it does evoke the gurgling sound which is made by some wild cat species when close to others. There are some more wild cat sounds below.
How to say ‘onomatopoeia’
Saying some of the words
The cheetah makes a moaning sound when threatened. The word “moan” when said in a slightly elongated fashion is an onomatopoeia in my opinion.
The cheetah also makes a stuttering sound. The word “stutter” is also probably and onomatopoeia. Although in this instance it has been borrowed from human speech in which it describes a speech defect.
In the world of wild cats, the ‘wah-wah’ close call is certainly an onomatopoeia because it is an entirely manufactured word which replicates the actual sound.
Another is the “yap” made by the jaguarundi. The word is very short and sharp which is intended to reflect the true sound made by this strange-looking wild cat species.
Another is the “yelp”. This is also made by the cheetah and is a brief, high-pitched ‘yow’.
If you click on this link, you’ll be taken to a page which provides you with a full list of domestic and wild cat sounds and how to spell them. You can read them and see why they are probably all onomatopoeias.
Note: I got the idea for this page from somebody who was searching my website for the word “onomatopoeia”. Until I saw that it had not occurred to me that the words describing the sounds that cats make are, and have to be, onomatopoeias. I want to thank that person.