- n. A rumbling sound made by the movement of gas in the intestines heard from a distance.
If you ever wanted a more intelligent way to say that your stomach is growling, here it is. From the Greek βορβορυγμός, our English equivalent is a pretty straightforward transliteration. The muscles of the gastrointestinal tract work to move content from the small intestine down the pipes.
While it may be a neat bit of trivia, the reason I find borborygmus so fascinating is because it’s a Greek onomatopoeia, and onomatopoeia are something that most people tend to forget about even in English. An onomatopoeia, for those of you who don’t know or remember, is a word which sounds like the thing it describes. It comes from the Greek ὀνοματοποιία (name + I make/do), the figurative translation of which indicates something is named as it sounds.
Onomatopoeia from different cultures are fascinating because some are so similar, and others are way out in left field respective to English. Take the Chinese word for the sound that a cat makes: 喵, or miāo, is of course very similar to the English meow; similar, the Icelandic tikk takk is the sound of a clock, similar to the English tic toc.
Rooster crows are common onomatopoeia: there’s the Arabic kuku kukuku, the Dutch kukeleku, the Hungarian kukurikú, the Romanian cucurigu, and the Spanish quiquiriqui; compare that to the English cuckoo or cockadoodledoo.
On the other hands, the Korean onomatopoeia for the bark of a dog, 멍멍 (meong meong), seems decidedly strange, as it appears to have more in common with a cat’s meow than a dog’s bark.
Borborygmus, strange though it sounds, makes sense: really, how else would you mimic a rumbling sound?