A Canadian writer teaches English and finds out what it's like to be a foreigner.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ratatatat & Co.

Literature has always struggled with conveying circumstantial sound. Sure, grammar mongers try to sort it all out with their inflections and m-dashes, carving up words with surgical precision, but what I mean is real, understandable and unapologetic onomatopoeia.


The "Bof!" "Splat!" "Gak!" and "Zok!" of Batman fame, or the refrain from my treasured childhood book Herman the Helper: "Oof! Ugh! Ick! Urk! Ouch!"

I think of this as I try to convey in letters a hilarious noise that Paul has taken to doing. Like the comic book death knells "Funghaaaaaaaa!" "Nyaaaaaagh!" and "Blurgh!" Paul has his own noise to emphatically describe the death of something. It never fails to crack me up. I guess it sounds sort of like this:


It's by no means your standard "retch" from being hoofed in the guts. It has a certain je ne sais qua. I think it's in the "x."

I know it's a nearly impossible task to explain a funny noise in writing, but this has made me laugh so many times today I can't forgo mentioning it.

It's like a dog trying to say its name while throwing up— surprising, and unintelligible.

I can't recall the first time Paul made the noise, but it's made even funnier by the way he grins while saying it, with his missing front tooth. This, of course, makes it even harder to describe why it is actually funny, and yet I can't just write it off as a "you had to be there" type of funny.

I think I'm drawn to the noise for epistemological reasons. Seriously though, before it just sounds like I'm talking out of my arse equator. I find it interesting the different ways various cultures announce surprise, victory, frustration, and comic death. Korean kids tend to shout "Asa!" when something good happens, like they win a game or get a question right. Think of all the sounds we use to express success: "Huzzah!" "Yee-ha!" "Whee-la!" "Woot!" "Yipiee!" "Boo-ya!" "Yahoooo!"

The list goes on and on.

I just find it interesting the way Paul thought to end someones last utterance with "x." It just seems so inglorious to go out on an "x."

If Caesar had bought it after "Et tu Brutix?" you can be sure no one would be inclined to parrot his last words today.


Paul said "Rreeeex!" and I laughed.



Anonymous said...

I also have been fascinated by how koreans can express these noises. Often in class students will want to compare animal sounds and I've learned that dogs actually go "mong mong!" and not something like "woof".

Also knocking on a door is "dok dok" and, because its only makes sense that they would have such a thing, the sound of something boiling is "boohgul boohgul boohgul".

Anonymous said...

Hi Sam
Here I am on my 5th glass of wine and the dog is barking incessantly downstairs....all i want to do is scream Ruuuuuuddiiiiiiiiii
just want ya to know i'm with you in spirit.
keep those laughs coming.

Jake the Rog said...