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Judge John Hodgman on the Most Cheeky Onomatopoeia

Jordan writes: Is “fart” an onomatopoeia? My partner, Sav, says it doesn’t evoke any sound. I think it’s just as good an approximation as “toot,” which we agree is an onomatopoeia. Who is right?

It’s true that farts have many tones and styles that do not sound precisely like “fart” — just ask the (presumably smelly) ghost of the famous French stage flatulist Le Pétomane. I handed over almost my full fee for this column to look up “fart” in the Oxford English Dictionary. It dates at least to the 14th century, a cognate of the Old Danish “fiert” and the Middle Low German “vort,” which both sound pretty farty. As does the Middle English “ffarte”: those double fs really sing it. In any case, the O.E.D. concludes it’s “probably ultimately of imitative origin.” So it sounds as if you win, Jordan. And to Sav, I offer only the sound of a sad trombone: womp womp.

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