It’s hard to find the right word to describe the shushing plashing sound of breakers rolling on a beach, the sound of the ocean that we seek in a shell. Susurrus is commonly used, but is defined in the dictionary as a murmuring sound. It is onomatopoeic I suppose, and that helps.
Onomatopoeia is a difficult word to spell, so easy to make a mistake with it in a literature exam. It is when we make words that sound of the thing. Most societies have a word for a snake that begins with the ssssss sound made by a snake slithering over dry ground. It probably began life as a warning, because snakes are dangerous to man. Serpent(e) in romance languages, Slang in germanic languages.
Cuckoo is another good example of onomatopoeia. A bird named for its call.
The poet and short story writer Stephen Vincent Benét, born 120 years ago on this day, found no such word to describe the ocean sound, or he probably would have used it.
A Minor Poet: by Stephen Vincent Benét
I am a shell. From me you shall not hear
the splendid tramplings of insistent drums,
the orbed gold of the viol’s voice that comes,
heavy with radiance, languorous and clear.
Yet, if you hold me close against the ear,
a dim, far whisper rises clamorously,
the thunderous beat and passion of the sea,
the slow surge of the tides that drown the mere.
Others with subtle hands may pluck the strings,
making even Love in music audible,
and earth one glory. I am but a shell
that moves, not of itself, and moving sings;
leaving a fragrance, faint as wine new-shed,
a tremulous murmur from great days long dead.