Literary Terms

Cacophony

    • Definition & Examples
    • When & How to Use Cacophony
    • Quiz

    I. What is Cacophony?

    Cacophony is the use of a combination of words with loud, harsh sounds—in reality as well as literature.  In literary studies, this combination of words with rough or unharmonious sounds are used for a noisy or jarring poetic effect. Cacophony is considered the opposite of euphony which is the use of beautiful, melodious-sounding words.

     

    II. Examples of Cacophony

    Cacophony can be used in both poetry and everyday conversation.

    Example 1

    He grunted and in a gruff voice said, “Give me that trash and I’ll throw it out!”

    This sentence makes use of cacophony in a few ways: “grunted,” “gruff,” and “give” have harsh g sounds and “that,” “trash,” and “throw it out” all have hard t sounds.

    Example 2

    He is a rotten, dirty, terrible, trudging, stupid dude!

    In this example, the cacophonic sound of the sentence mirrors its harsh tone and meaning with hard t sounds in “dirty,” “terrible,” and trudging,” hard d sounds in “dirty,” “trudging,” and “dude,” and the hard st sound in “stupid.”

    Example 3

    Klarissa Klein drives an old, grumbling Cadillac which has a crumpled bumper and screaming, honking horn.

    Here, many hard sounds create cacophony: hard k and c sounds of “Klarissa Klein,” “Cadillac,” “crumpled,” and “honking,” hard g and b sounds in “grumbling,” “bumper,” “screaming,” and honking,” and the hard sk sound in “screaming.”

    Cacophony is used to create harsh-sounding sentences and tones which often mirror their subject matter: noisy, energetic, chaotic, or unwanted characters and things.

     

    III. The Importance of Using Cacophony

    Despite its harshness, cacophony is used for musicality in writing. It makes use of connotative sounds to create disgust, frustration, or interest in the reader with loudness, noisiness, and energy in hard consonant sounds. Cacophony creates interesting poems, emotive prose , and playful songs.

     

    IV. Examples of Cacophony in Literature

    Cacophony is a frequent poetic device used in both poetry and prose. Here are a few examples of cacophony in literature:

    Example 1

    In American English, we know “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” goes like this:

     Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

    How I wonder what you are,

    Shining in the sky so bright,

    Like a tea tray in the night,

    Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

    How I wonder what you are.

     

    In San Lorenzan dialect on the other hand, the same poem goes like this:

     

    Tsvent-kiul, tsvent-kiul, lett-pool store,_

    Ko jy tsvantoor bat voo yore.

    Put-shinik on lo shee zo brath,_

    Kam oon teetron on lo nath,_

    Tsvent-kiul, tsvent-kiul, lett-poll store,_

    Ko jy tsvantoor bat voo yore.

    This excerpt is from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle. The native dialect is riddled with cacophonic sounds: tsv’s, k’s, and hard p’s and b’s. Vonnegut’s novel utilizes cacophony to highlight the absurd nature of the book’s subject with characters like Bokonon, Newt, and Zinka and invented terms like sinookas and wampeters, all of which are markedly cacophonic.

    Example 2

    ’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

    All mimsy were the borogoves,

    And the mome raths outgrabe.

     

    “Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

    The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

    Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

    The frumious Bandersnatch!”

     

    This excerpt from Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” is perhaps the most famous example of cacophony with harsh and loud sounds in invented words like “brillig,” “gimble,” “borogoves,” and “Jugjub”!

     

    V. Examples of Cacophony in Pop Culture

    Cacophony is also a term commonly applied to music which utilizes loud and hard sounds.

    Example 1

    Stomp new trailer

    The performing group STOMP is a prime example of the joy of cacophony at work. STOMP makes musical noise with metallic pots and pans, broomsticks, and basketballs among other percussive devices.

    Example 2

    Gobbledigook (Live With Bjork at Naturra)

    With playful clapping, stomping, lalala’s, and booming percussion, Sigur Rós’s “Gobbledigook” is another example of fun and energetic cacophony in the form of music.

     

    VI. Related Terms

    Euphony

    The opposite of cacophony, euphony is the use of sweet, melodious sounds for a delicious, beautiful experience of sound in poetry and prose alike.

    Here are a few examples of euphony:

    1. The lovely lilies shade me as I stroll through the soft and dewy flower beds.

    Soft l sounds in “lovely lilies” and soft s sounds in “shade,” “stroll,” and “soft” create a smooth and lilting sentence which mirrors the ease with which one strolls through a garden.

    1. Sing to me of silent souls rising to heaven above us.

    Once again, soft s sounds like “sing,” “silent,” and “souls” combine with soft phrases like “rising” and “heaven above us” to create a euphonic and beautiful sentence.

     

    Onomatopoeia

    Onomatopoeia is sometimes cacophonic, but cacophony is not always onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia are words which sound like their meaning. Here are a few examples of onomatopoeia:

    1. Bang! Boom! Pow!
    2. Cock-a-doodle-doo!
    3. Sputter of a car engine

    Often, onomatopoeic words are also cacophonous, but not always. “Bang,” for example, utilizes the hard b and g sounds. Words like “slip” and “slush,” on the other hand, are onomatopoeic but more euphonic than cacophonic.

     

    Consonance

    As you may have noticed, cacophony often involves hard consonant sounds, such as k, t, and g. The repetition of consonants is known as consonance . The difference between consonance and cacophony is cacophony has the goal of loudness, harshness, or noisiness whereas consonance does not always have such a goal.

    Here is an example of consonance versus cacophony:

    Consonance:

    Sarah survived surfing beside sharks.

    In this example, the consonant s in particular is repeated. Note, though, that the s is a soft sound which is more euphonic than cacophonic.

    Cacophony:

    Sarah crashed through tough surf fleeing dangerous sharks and their bites.

    This example, on the other hand, is much more cacophonous with the hard c in “crash,” the f sounds in “tough,” “surf,” and “fleeing,” and the hard d, k, and t in “dangerous shark bites.” Although consonance is sometimes used for cacophony, it is not always cacophonous.

     

    VII. In Closing

    Cacophonic is a poetic sound device in which certain sounds create harsh and hard tones. The opposite of euphony, cacophony is colorful, noisy, loud, and energetic like the beat of a drum or the crash of a cymbal.

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    Literary Terms

    Cacophony

      • Definition & Examples
      • When & How to Use Cacophony
      • Quiz

      I. What is Cacophony?

      Cacophony is the use of a combination of words with loud, harsh sounds—in reality as well as literature.  In literary studies, this combination of words with rough or unharmonious sounds are used for a noisy or jarring poetic effect. Cacophony is considered the opposite of euphony which is the use of beautiful, melodious-sounding words.

       

      II. Examples of Cacophony

      Cacophony can be used in both poetry and everyday conversation.

      Example 1

      He grunted and in a gruff voice said, “Give me that trash and I’ll throw it out!”

      This sentence makes use of cacophony in a few ways: “grunted,” “gruff,” and “give” have harsh g sounds and “that,” “trash,” and “throw it out” all have hard t sounds.

      Example 2

      He is a rotten, dirty, terrible, trudging, stupid dude!

      In this example, the cacophonic sound of the sentence mirrors its harsh tone and meaning with hard t sounds in “dirty,” “terrible,” and trudging,” hard d sounds in “dirty,” “trudging,” and “dude,” and the hard st sound in “stupid.”

      Example 3

      Klarissa Klein drives an old, grumbling Cadillac which has a crumpled bumper and screaming, honking horn.

      Here, many hard sounds create cacophony: hard k and c sounds of “Klarissa Klein,” “Cadillac,” “crumpled,” and “honking,” hard g and b sounds in “grumbling,” “bumper,” “screaming,” and honking,” and the hard sk sound in “screaming.”

      Cacophony is used to create harsh-sounding sentences and tones which often mirror their subject matter: noisy, energetic, chaotic, or unwanted characters and things.

       

      III. The Importance of Using Cacophony

      Despite its harshness, cacophony is used for musicality in writing. It makes use of connotative sounds to create disgust, frustration, or interest in the reader with loudness, noisiness, and energy in hard consonant sounds. Cacophony creates interesting poems, emotive prose , and playful songs.

       

      IV. Examples of Cacophony in Literature

      Cacophony is a frequent poetic device used in both poetry and prose. Here are a few examples of cacophony in literature:

      Example 1

      In American English, we know “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” goes like this:

       Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

      How I wonder what you are,

      Shining in the sky so bright,

      Like a tea tray in the night,

      Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

      How I wonder what you are.

       

      In San Lorenzan dialect on the other hand, the same poem goes like this:

       

      Tsvent-kiul, tsvent-kiul, lett-pool store,_

      Ko jy tsvantoor bat voo yore.

      Put-shinik on lo shee zo brath,_

      Kam oon teetron on lo nath,_

      Tsvent-kiul, tsvent-kiul, lett-poll store,_

      Ko jy tsvantoor bat voo yore.

      This excerpt is from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle. The native dialect is riddled with cacophonic sounds: tsv’s, k’s, and hard p’s and b’s. Vonnegut’s novel utilizes cacophony to highlight the absurd nature of the book’s subject with characters like Bokonon, Newt, and Zinka and invented terms like sinookas and wampeters, all of which are markedly cacophonic.

      Example 2

      ’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

      All mimsy were the borogoves,

      And the mome raths outgrabe.

       

      “Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

      The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

      Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

      The frumious Bandersnatch!”

       

      This excerpt from Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” is perhaps the most famous example of cacophony with harsh and loud sounds in invented words like “brillig,” “gimble,” “borogoves,” and “Jugjub”!

       

      V. Examples of Cacophony in Pop Culture

      Cacophony is also a term commonly applied to music which utilizes loud and hard sounds.

      Example 1

      Stomp new trailer

      The performing group STOMP is a prime example of the joy of cacophony at work. STOMP makes musical noise with metallic pots and pans, broomsticks, and basketballs among other percussive devices.

      Example 2

      Gobbledigook (Live With Bjork at Naturra)

      With playful clapping, stomping, lalala’s, and booming percussion, Sigur Rós’s “Gobbledigook” is another example of fun and energetic cacophony in the form of music.

       

      VI. Related Terms

      Euphony

      The opposite of cacophony, euphony is the use of sweet, melodious sounds for a delicious, beautiful experience of sound in poetry and prose alike.

      Here are a few examples of euphony:

      1. The lovely lilies shade me as I stroll through the soft and dewy flower beds.

      Soft l sounds in “lovely lilies” and soft s sounds in “shade,” “stroll,” and “soft” create a smooth and lilting sentence which mirrors the ease with which one strolls through a garden.

      1. Sing to me of silent souls rising to heaven above us.

      Once again, soft s sounds like “sing,” “silent,” and “souls” combine with soft phrases like “rising” and “heaven above us” to create a euphonic and beautiful sentence.

       

      Onomatopoeia

      Onomatopoeia is sometimes cacophonic, but cacophony is not always onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia are words which sound like their meaning. Here are a few examples of onomatopoeia:

      1. Bang! Boom! Pow!
      2. Cock-a-doodle-doo!
      3. Sputter of a car engine

      Often, onomatopoeic words are also cacophonous, but not always. “Bang,” for example, utilizes the hard b and g sounds. Words like “slip” and “slush,” on the other hand, are onomatopoeic but more euphonic than cacophonic.

       

      Consonance

      As you may have noticed, cacophony often involves hard consonant sounds, such as k, t, and g. The repetition of consonants is known as consonance . The difference between consonance and cacophony is cacophony has the goal of loudness, harshness, or noisiness whereas consonance does not always have such a goal.

      Here is an example of consonance versus cacophony:

      Consonance:

      Sarah survived surfing beside sharks.

      In this example, the consonant s in particular is repeated. Note, though, that the s is a soft sound which is more euphonic than cacophonic.

      Cacophony:

      Sarah crashed through tough surf fleeing dangerous sharks and their bites.

      This example, on the other hand, is much more cacophonous with the hard c in “crash,” the f sounds in “tough,” “surf,” and “fleeing,” and the hard d, k, and t in “dangerous shark bites.” Although consonance is sometimes used for cacophony, it is not always cacophonous.

       

      VII. In Closing

      Cacophonic is a poetic sound device in which certain sounds create harsh and hard tones. The opposite of euphony, cacophony is colorful, noisy, loud, and energetic like the beat of a drum or the crash of a cymbal.

      Share:
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      Facebook

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      • List of Terms

        • Action
        • Ad Hominem
        • Adage
        • Adventure
        • Allegory
        • Alliteration
        • Allusion
        • Alter Ego
        • Ambiguity
        • Amplification
        • Anachronism
        • Anagram
        • Analogy
        • Anaphora
        • Anecdote
        • Antagonist
        • Anthimeria
        • Anthropomorphism
        • Antithesis
        • Antonomasia
        • APA Citation
        • Aphorism
        • Aphorismus
        • Apologia
        • Apologue
        • Aporia
        • Aposiopesis
        • Appositive
        • Archaism
        • Archetype
        • Argument
        • Assonance
        • Asyndeton
        • Autobiography
        • Bathos
        • Burlesque
        • Buzzword
        • Cacophony
        • Caesura
        • Catharsis
        • Character
        • Chiasmus
        • Chronicle
        • Circumlocution
        • Cliché
        • Cliffhanger
        • Climax
        • Coherence
        • Comedy
        • Connotation
        • Consonance
        • Contrast
        • Conundrum
        • Denotation
        • Denouement
        • Deus ex machina
        • Diacope
        • Dialogue
        • Diction
        • Doppelganger
        • Double Entendre
        • Drama
        • Dystopia
        • Ellipsis
        • Enjambment
        • Enthymeme
        • Epigram
        • Epiphany
        • Epistrophe
        • Epitaph
        • Epithet
        • Eponym
        • Equivocation
        • Essay
        • Etymology
        • Euphemism
        • Excursus
        • Exemplum
        • Exposition
        • Extended Metaphor
        • Fable
        • Fairy Tale
        • Fantasy
        • Farce
        • Figures of Speech
        • Flashback
        • Folklore
        • Foreshadowing
        • Genre
        • Haiku
        • Hamartia
        • Homage
        • Homophone
        • Horror
        • Hyperbaton
        • Hyperbole
        • Idiom
        • Imagery
        • Inference
        • Innuendo
        • Intertextuality
        • Invective
        • Irony
        • Jargon
        • Juxtaposition
        • Kairos
        • Limerick
        • Lingo
        • Literary Device
        • Litotes
        • Malapropism
        • Maxim
        • Memoir
        • Metanoia
        • Metaphor
        • Metonymy
        • Mnemonic
        • Monologue
        • Montage
        • Motif
        • Motto
        • Mystery
        • Narrative
        • Nemesis
        • Neologism
        • Ode
        • Onomatopoeia
        • Oxymoron
        • Palindrome
        • Parable
        • Paradox
        • Parallelism
        • Paraphrase
        • Parody
        • Pastiche
        • Pathetic Fallacy
        • Pejorative
        • Peripeteia
        • Persona
        • Personification
        • Plagiarism
        • Platitude
        • Pleonasm
        • Plot
        • Poetry
        • Polemic
        • Polyptoton
        • Polysyndeton
        • Prologue
        • Propaganda
        • Prose
        • Protagonist
        • Proverb
        • Pseudonym
        • Pun
        • Quest
        • Rebus
        • Red Herring
        • Repetition
        • Resolution
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      Cacophony




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      Cacophony

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      Cacophony Definition

      What is cacophony? Here’s a quick and simple definition:

      A cacophony is a combination of words that sound harsh or unpleasant together, usually because they pack a lot of percussive or “explosive” consonants (like T, P, or K) into relatively little space. For instance, the protagonist of the children’s book Tikki Tikki Tembo has a very long, very cacophonous name: Tikki Tikki Tembo No Sarimbo Hari Kari Bushkie Perry Pem Do Hai Kai Pom Pom Nikki No Meeno Dom Barako.

      Some additional key details about cacophony:

      • The word cacophony comes from the Greek word meaning “bad sound.”
      • The word cacophony is itself slightly cacophonous because of the repetition of the “k” sound.
      • Cacophony is one of the words that is used most often to speak about the musicality of language—how it sounds when it’s spoken aloud.
      • The opposite of cacophony is euphony , or the mixture of words that sound smooth or pleasant together.

      How to Pronounce Cacophony

      Here’s how to pronounce cacophony: Kuh-koff-uh-nee

      Cacophony in Depth

      To really understand what cacophony is, it’s helpful to start by getting a sense of what an “explosive consonant” is:

      • An explosive consonant is a consonant that “pops” or has a “release”—like a tiny explosion—when you say it. The consonants B, D, K, P, T, and G (as in Gorilla, not George) are all explosive. You can think of explosive consonants as all the letters you would want to use if you were going to try to write out the sounds a frying pan would make if you threw it down a stairwell: ting, ping, klang, dong, bang, crash. Other consonants that can have explosive sounds are C, CH, Q, and X.

      Explosive consonants are really the key ingredient when creating cacophony. As you can hear, the word cacophony itself has two explosive consonant sounds that repeat in close succession (kuh-koff-uh-nee), making it a cacophonous word. So a word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, or poem is typically considered cacophonous when it contains explosive consonants in relatively close succession. But that doesn’t mean that every consonant has to be explosive—and it also doesn’t mean that the explosive sounds have to occur right next to each other. In fact, in most cases, cacophony is created using the help of other, non-explosive consonant sounds, since it makes the jumble of noises all the more discordant—and with cacophony, discord is the name of the game.

      The Broader Definition of Cacophony

      It’s worth noting that some people take a much broader view of what constitutes cacophony. These people would argue that cacophony includes any grouping of words that sound unpleasant together or are difficult to pronounce—simply by virtue of containing dissimilar sounds. This definition is much less technical, so it leaves the door wide open for lots of different phrases to be interpreted as cacophonous, which can get confusing. For this reason, we’ve chosen to cover the narrower definition, but you should know that there are people who think differently about what things do and do not count as cacophony. (As it happens, however, most phrases that people identify as cacophonous under this broader definition do contain lots of explosive consonants—for what it’s worth.)

      Misconceptions About Cacophony

      Some websites define cacophony as any word, phrase, or sentence that is difficult to pronounce. For example, one website gives the famous tongue-twister “She sells seashells by the seashore” as an example of cacophony, but this is a mistake. While cacophonous phrases often are tricky to pronounce, not every tongue-twister or phrase that is hard to pronounce is also cacophonous. The example of “She sells seashells by the seashore” is a particularly odd one to give for cacophony because it’s actually an example of sibilance —or the use of hissing sounds—which is almost the exact opposite of cacophony.

      Cacophony Examples

      These examples of cacophony are taken from poems, plays, and novels.

      Cacophony in Lewis Carroll’s “The Jabberwocky”

      This famous poem by Lewis Carroll uses lots of made-up words to create a jumble of cacophonous sounds. When read aloud, the poem might feels like a tongue-twister, or like you have marbles in your mouth. That’s often one of the effects of cacophony. In this case, it helps create a feeling of distortion and disorientation—almost as if the reader has entered another world (which is fitting because the poem itself is about a mythical monster and takes place a fantastical world).

      ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
        Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
      All mimsy were the borogoves,
        And the mome raths outgrabe.

      Cacophony in Hart Crane’s “To Brooklyn Bridge”

      In this poem, Hart Crane uses cacophony to bring his subject to life: he’s writing about one of New York’s most impressive bridges, the Brooklyn Bridge—a masterwork of industry and engineering. Listening to the poem, you can almost hear the industrial sounds of the city: gears turning, subway cars careening past, electric lines buzzing.

      Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
      A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
      Tilting there momentarily, shrill shirt ballooning,
      A jest falls from the speechless caravan.

      Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
      A rip-tooth of the sky’s acetylene;
      All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn . . .
      Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.

      Cacophony in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels

      In this passage from Swift’s book  Gulliver’s Travels , the narrator describes the experience of war using overwhelmingly cacophonous sounds. The effect is that his description creates a visceral image—not just imagined but felt through the language—of the violence of war.

      I could not forbear shaking my head, and smiling a little at his ignorance. And being no stranger to the art of war, I gave him a description of cannons, culverins, muskets, carabines, pistols, bullets, powder, swords, bayonets, battles, sieges, retreats, attacks, undermines, countermines, bombardments, sea fights, ships sunk with a thousand men, twenty thousand killed on each side, dying groans, limbs flying in the air, smoke, noise, confusion, trampling to death under horses’ feet, flight, pursuit, victory; fields strewed with carcases, left for food to dogs and wolves and birds of prey; plundering, stripping, ravishing, burning, and destroying.

      Cacophony in Shakespeare’s Macbeth

      In this famous passage from  Macbeth , Lady Macbeth’s speech becomes cacophonous in a moment of panicked hallucination. Her guilt over the murder for which she is partly responsible comes to the surface not only through what she says, but through the discordant way she says it.

      Out, damned spot! Out, I say!—One, two. Why, then, ’tis time to do ’t. Hell is murky!

      Cacophony in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Bells

      This poem by Poe is all about making the language mimic the subject of the poem. The speaker describes the ringing of bells—four different types of bells are described throughout the poem—and by the end, the “jingling, tinkling” sound of the bells has become “throbbing and sobbing”—and has begun to torment the speaker, causing him misery and anguish. Poe makes unrelenting use of cacophony to help create the poem’s maddening effect, mimicking the discordant sounds of the bells.

      What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
      How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
      In the icy air of night!
      While the stars that oversprinkle
      All the heavens, seem to twinkle
      With a crystalline delight;
      Keeping time, time, time,
      In a sort of Runic rhyme,
      To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
      From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
      Bells, bells, bells–
      From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

      Why Do Writers Use Cacophony?

      Cacophony is most often used by writers when they want to make the sound of the language itself mimic the subject they’re writing about. In the examples above, you saw cacophony used as a tool for bringing a variety of different subject matters to life. Here are some of the things a writer might use cacophony to write about:

      • Something noisy, like clanging bells.
      • Something chaotic, like a city street or a house full of screaming children. 
      • Something violent, like war.
      • Dark thoughts or feelings—like Lady Macbeth’s overwhelming guilt about her complicity in Duncan’s murder.
      • A fantasy world—maybe one full of monsters, like in Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Jabberwocky.”

      Other Helpful Cacophony Resources

      • The Wikipedia Page on Phonaesthetics:  This page has a brief section on cacophony that covers the basics.
      • The Dictionary Definition of Cacophony:  A simple definition, with a section on the etymology of the word (it comes from Greek and means “bad sound”).