Ten Tamil (Echo) Onomatopoeias Describing Noise

Not the sound of silence
Not the sound of silence

Tamil women are a loud lot. Tamil men are pretty loud too, but I think the women are louder.

I can say this with certainty because I have had intimate, excruciating contact with Tamil women since the second I was born.

Starting with the mother, moving along to the grandmother, then to assorted aunts (there were four of them, no uncles), and eventually maids, I have had to learn lessons on life and love at decibel levels that hovered around the 80 mark most of the time. It’s a miracle that I’m not stone cold deaf.

I’d like your permission to digress just a little, to make a point here.

It is said that people in very cold places like Alaska and Scandinavia have several hundred words to describe snow. It’s pretty obvious that nuance is needed to properly allude to either slush or sleet or freezing rain, as the case may be. Otherwise, what separates us from the polar bear?

It’s a bit like that for Tamil women.

Their lives are dominated by noise and sound.

It’s no surprise then, that Tamil is filled with many, many onomatopoeias describing noise. Not the sound of chickens (cluck-cluck) or cats purring (miao-miao), but actual words describing different types of bangs and crashes and thuds and of course, shouting.

  1. Damal, dumeel: The sound of pots and pans clattering to the floor. Or anything else.
  2. Dumma, dumma: The sound of a beating drum. Drummers are usually very annoyed when their art is described in this manner, which could be because it’s also the same onomatopoeia used to describe the sound of a hammer banging into resistance.
  3. Fadal, fadal: The sound of first the palm and then the back of the hand across someone’s face.
  4. Kiruke, kiruke: The irritating sound of something that has rusted and clearly needs oil, but is nevertheless being turned around and around relentlessly, hoping for a miracle. Could also be the sound rats would make in a metal bin that has been sealed shut.
  5. Kreech, kreech; The sound of young girls shrieking with laughter, getting louder and more hysterical by the minute, driving the listener insane.
  6. Koyan, koyan: The sound of whining. Usually small children, who can keep it up for a long time.
  7. Laboh, laboh: The sound of wailing. Not real, sorrowful wailing, but crying loudly for effect.
  8. Lottu, lottu: The sound of someone plodding along painfully, annoying the listener with their ponderous pace.
  9. Vaal, vaal: The sound of loud, angry yelling and arguing. The sound of no compromise.
  10. Veel, veel: The sound of loud squealing, possibly as a result of pain or perhaps insult.

Yes, there are several other onomatopoeic and repetitive words to describe all sorts of noises, but my head is already exploding with just the din of this prose.

To conclude, I’d like to offer a little wake-me-up advise to members of my family who may or may not be guilty of overdoing the racket.

The largest not-for-profit medical practice in the whole world is the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Here’s what they have to say about decibel levels.

Safe range

30                    Whisper

60                    Normal conversation

78                    Washing machine

Risk range

80 to 90           Heavy city traffic, power lawn mower

90                    Motorcycle

100                  Hand drill

110                  Rock concert

Injury range

120                  Ambulance siren

Pain threshold

140                  Jet engine at takeoff

165                  12-guage shotgun blast

180                  Rocket launch

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