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A recent xkcd, under the heading "The Tell-Tale Beat":

(As usual, click on the image for a larger version.)

The mouseover title: "You fancy me mad. Could a madman have outsmarted the greatest electronica/techno artists of our era? Next to fall will be Roderick Usher's house/trance band."

This strip helped me to understand several instances of onomatopoeia that had previously puzzled me — for example this:

I'm used to being puzzled by foreign onomatopoeia and ideophones, but I've always found English-language phonetic symbolism pretty transparent, even the wide array of forms found in the comics.  But this one baffled me, until Randall Munroe gave enough context, and a careful-enough spelling, for me to catch on.

(If I'd cared enough, of course, I could just have asked YouTube. And in this case, the Urban Dictionary also  works.)


  1. Sili said,

    May 22, 2010 @ 3:30 pm

    1) My flab is thoroughly gasted to learn that you read Candi.

    2) Thanks for clarifying this, since I'd been puzzled as well.

  2. Russell Borogove said,

    May 22, 2010 @ 3:31 pm

    Also "oontz".

  3. Brian said,

    May 22, 2010 @ 4:01 pm

    I love that Randall Munroe put such effort into all that detailed shading — including inking in the shadows on the spherical head of what is clearly still a stick figure.

  4. Ed Cormany said,

    May 22, 2010 @ 5:18 pm

    i'm a personal fan of the spelling "unh-tz" for techno beat. "unce" is only odd because it presents a plausible monosyllabic option /ʌns/, at least to English speakers.

  5. Robert Furber said,

    May 22, 2010 @ 6:49 pm

    Is there a name for the tendency to include a stop to make going from a nasal to a fricative easier? E.g. hampster, sentse etc.?

    Is this one of those things where I hear a stop even though it's not there?

    [(myl) The term that comes to mind is an "intrusive" stop. And in most cases, it's really there, in the sense that between the voiced nasal murmur and the voiceless fricative, there's a period of time when the velum has closed and the voicing has ended, but the turbulent fricative flow hasn't started. This may be true even for speakers who distinguish "tense" from "tents".]

  6. Rich Lafferty said,

    May 22, 2010 @ 10:40 pm

    Oonce oonce oonce oonce.

  7. CGHill said,

    May 23, 2010 @ 12:38 am

    The Bloodhound Gang renders it "Uhn Tiss Uhn Tiss Uhn Tiss." Keep in mind, though, that their previous single bore the title "Foxtrot Uniform Charlie Kilo."

  8. Robert Paulson said,

    May 23, 2010 @ 1:18 am

    The Bloodhound Gang has a song called Uhn Tiss Uhn Tiss Uhn Tiss.

  9. Jessica said,

    May 23, 2010 @ 2:43 am

    The onomatopoeic term that always amuses me is the Australian one for an outdoor rave, a "bush doof". "Doof" is from the doof-doof-doof-doof drumbeat of electronic music (the kick drum, according to Wikipedia) – interesting that the term evokes a monotone, without the high tone of the "tss". Bush doofs apparently mostly play trance, so it might actually be a technical distinction.

  10. andrew c said,

    May 23, 2010 @ 9:11 am

    from my experience 'doof' is the sound a car playing dance music makes as it passes – the treble is lost but the bass woofers carry for an apparent 6 or 7 kilometres

  11. Sam said,

    May 23, 2010 @ 11:08 am

    Also in Erfworld volume 1, as uhn tiss

  12. Erik Zyman Carrasco said,

    May 23, 2010 @ 12:58 pm

    I've always spelled it ntz-ntz-ntz-ntz…, but once I even saw mm sa!

  13. DMH said,

    May 23, 2010 @ 5:50 pm

    The rendering ntz-ntz-ntz does seem a bit more natural to me, but only because this seems to correspond more closely to the way my peers and friends actually produce the sounds with their mouths while dancing or in jest to set the scene for dancing.

    Also perhaps noteworthy, this seemed to be a common practice in several Fijian villages I visited recently: to produce this sound in time to the beat during a village dance. (Needless to say, the music is very different from the techno/dance music where I'm used to hearing this sound.)

  14. Faldone said,

    May 24, 2010 @ 3:00 pm

    Does anyone else see an homage to Edward Gorey in the drawing of this xkcd?

  15. Charly said,

    May 30, 2010 @ 4:39 am

    I always transliterated it as "intz."

  16. May Linkfest « Literal-Minded said,

    May 30, 2010 @ 11:26 pm

    […] word that was new to me, unce, is the subject of a Language Log post by Mark […]

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