Zap! Pow! Kraaakkkk! Ideophones for involvement at FeedBurner

FeedBurner, a service for managing RSS feeds, provided us with a nice example of ideophonic language on its corporate blog last year:

Starting right now, you just log into your Blogger account, select Settings | Site Feed, enter your FeedBurner feed address and click “Save Settings.” Zap! Pow! Kraaakkkk! Now you’ve got the complete picture of how your content is being consumed out here, out there, out everywhere.

HIT! ( Visual Linguist)

The technique at work here is commonly used in comics. Neil Cohn over at The Visual Linguist refers to it as ‘replacing a certain panel to get an entailment of the action’ (see example to the right).

I would think of it not so much as replacing a panel for something else but rather as zooming in on the action. The goal is not to get the entailment of the action, although that may be the effect. The goal is rather to drag the reader onto the scene to focus on the raw action, inviting her/him to recreate it in the imagination.

Behind the scenes

The ideophones used in the FeedBurner post invite us to imagine what happens after we click ‘Save settings’. They provide us with a peek behind the scenes, suggesting that a whole slew of machinery is set going by this one click, and Zap! Pow! Kraakkkk! produces the desired result.

Dragging us onto the scene is something ideophones do exceedingly well (see ‘Under the spell of ideophones‘). As marked words, they set themselves apart from the surrounding linguistic stuff and take center stage (Kunene 2001). As sound images (depictions, Lautbilder) of sensory events, they ‘fire the individual imagination’ (a phrase used by Deborah Tannen (2007[1989]:134) in a discussion of the role of imagery in conversation) and create a heightened sense of involvement (Nuckolls 1992).

The FeedBurner example is interesting because this type of mimetic use of language is stylistically marked for most English speakers. It sort of fits in with the branding strategy of FeedBurner, which is characterized by a decidedly colloquial style of communication all throughout their website. Cornelius Puschmann had a thoughtful post on such issues of style some time ago.


  1. Kunene, Daniel P. 2001. Speaking the Act: The Ideophone as a Linguistic Rebel. In Ideophones, ed. F. K. Erhard Voeltz and Christa Kilian-Hatz, 183-191. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  2. Nuckolls, Janis B. 1992. Sound Symbolic Involvement. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 2, no. 1: 51-80.  
  3. Tannen, Deborah. 2007. Talking Voices: Repetition, Dialogue, and Imagery in Conversational Discourse. 2nd ed. Studies in Interactional Sociolinguistics 25. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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