By Ellie Buchdahl

26 September 2018 - 14:25

Cat sitting on a white chair
'Italian cats miagolano, or meow (from miagolare).' Photo ©

Sarah Dorweiler used under licence and adapted from the original.

For European Day of Languages 2018, our colleagues across Europe told us some of the onomatopoeic words in their languages. 


If you sleep beside someone who snores in Greece, you might say that she or he ροχαλίζει (rochalízi).

But if the cicadas are keeping you awake during your afternoon nap, you might complain about the τζιτζίκια (tzitzíkia) come dinnertime.


The German word Viecher means ‘creepy crawlies’.

If you pronounce it correctly, you’ll understand why:

  • ‘v’ in German is pronounced like the English letter ‘f’
  • ‘ie’ sounds like the ‘ee’ in the English ‘see’
  • ‘ch’ in this word has a sound that is rare in world languages – similar to the ‘ch’ in the Scottish ‘loch’ but much softer and pronounced further forward in the mouth, almost like the ‘hu’ in ‘huge’
  • the final two letters are pronounced like ‘uh’

Put it together and you’ve got something you don’t want crawling in your hair.

With German birds, the clue is in the sound. For example, Uhu is an 'eagle owl', Krähe is a 'crow', and Kuckuck is a 'cuckoo'. A Hummel is a 'bumblebee'.

If the weather starts to turn, you’ll be warned by a Donnergrollen – a 'roll of thunder'. And if that happens, you might need the soggy-sounding Swiss German word pflotschnass – ‘soaking wet’.


Like German, Romanian birds have sound-descriptive names. The word for ‘dove’ or 'pigeon' is guguştiuc. Pronounced ‘gugu-sh-tyook’, you could imagine the bird was cooing.

Then there’s vijelie, the word for a 'squall' or a 'gale'. The ‘j’ sound is pronounced softly in Romanian, similar to the French ‘Jacques’ or ‘je’.

Crocant is a Romanian word meaning 'crispy' that appears in several forms in European languages, such as krokante in Dutch and Crocante in Portuguese.


Hungarian has unusual roots among European languages, and so it has some unique words. Csobban, for example, is the sound that water makes when it hits water.

But our favourite is röfög – which, according to our colleagues, is ‘what a pig does when it’s happy’.


Welsh might have the world’s best word for 'microwave' – popty ping – although it is more usual to say meicrodon.

For natural beauty, look no further than pili pala meaning 'butterfly'.

Then there’s the Welsh word for the sport of 'boxing' – paffio. Ouch.


Tichettio is the 'tick-tock' of a clock or a watch, and belato is the 'bleet' of a lamb. Fruscio is the 'gentle rustle of leaves' in the wind or when you walk on them in autumn.

Scricchiolare is to 'creak', and can describe the sound and movement of chairs, floor boards or tree branches.

Italian cats miagolano, or 'meow' (from miagolare).

European Day of Languages  is 26 September 2018. 

Join Dr Mirjana Bozic from University of Cambridge for her seminar on bilingualism, organised by the British Council with the Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

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