Since Japanese is incredibly rich in onomatopoeic expressions which are commonly understood by most adults, I am wondering if adults ever make up new onomatopoeia on the fly, or if they always use those which they have "learned" and which are commonly understood (and there is a very, very long list of "common" onomatopoeiae).

Young children probably do not know onomatopoeia for all situations and I think I have seen adults "correct" children on their "incorrect" (or improvised) use — for example, a 4-year-old child might use ざらざら where がさがざ would be more appropriate. (Of course, children learning Japanese natively will pick up onomatopoeia like any other word and usually don't need to be actively taught/corrected.)

I also guess that popular media can coin new onomatopoeia, which get included in the list of commonly known ones. Are there any notable examples that still prevail? Are there examples which have fallen out of use?


2 Answers 2


My feeling is that if you genuinely find an onomatopoeia that works better than existing ones, you can certainly use it on the fly. This is really hard though, as a) there are already so many of them, and b) there are unwritten rules that restrict possible onomatopoeia that will communicate successfully.

Children often do create new onomatopoeia, but if you are an adult it would be very rare. I found an article that tried to discover the usage of previously unknown onomatopoeia in mangas. Only 2% of onomatopoeia was new according to them. This is however in a very creative environment. If one uses new onomatopoeia in real-life conversations 2% of the time they will probably sound silly. That said, you could use the "new" onomatopoeia they identify (I'm using quotes because 3 out of 5 of them don't feel new to me) without problem in informal conversations (they are:「がこん」「てっ」「ぴきん」「ぽう」「わしゃわしゃ」).

As to examples that have fallen out of use, がびーん、がーん apparently has (I can't confirm this though as I've been out of Japan for some time now - I still use them :) ).

  • 1
    Out of interest, what current onomatopoeia do you think corresponds best to がびーん?
    – jogloran
    Dec 4, 2019 at 6:30
  • I use がーん which I believe is more current than がびーん, but there are some claims that it's 死語. I'm too old to give what's in right now ;) @jogloran Dec 4, 2019 at 13:17
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    What kind of “unwritten rules“ do you have in mind?
    – Earthliŋ
    Dec 5, 2019 at 7:02
  • The article linked explains some of them (for example if you add り at the end, it carries a specific meaning (and you can't use it to mean something else)). Dec 7, 2019 at 6:34
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    I think the key is even if it's new, it has to follow some rules to be understandable. For example, if I say ぽぷ! (pop!)、it wouldn't be understandable (it will have to be ぽん、ポコッ、ぽっこ、etc). @Earthliŋ Dec 7, 2019 at 6:41

Sorry I can't answer your question directly.

However, there is a great deal of sound symbolism in Japanese. Some authors coin new onomatopoeia for translating foreign concepts, or utilize onomatopoeic affixes just like Kango affixes (zazamushi was coined with zaza symbolizing the sound of waterflow, and mushi meaning "insect") .

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