All terms

What is a Cacophony?

Harsh, discordant sound.

An Eardrum's Nightmare: The Jarring Nature of Cacophony

Cacophony is a term that captures the dissonance and unpleasing sounds of the English language, a motif to be avoided in prose unless as an explicit element of style or for emphasis -- for instance, consider the crude dialogue of a fight scene or a villainous character's speech.

While primarily considered a 'bad' thing in literary circles, cacophony is a reminder of the diverse and complex nature of language, and of the way we use words to evoke sentiment and elicit emotion. From the associative mayhem of Joyceian prose to the ear-tingling word clusters of Gertrude Stein, cacophony can be an invaluable tool for writers looking to infuse their work with unconventional rhythms and sounds.

Cacophony in Action: Two Examples of Discordant Literary Language

Here are two memorable examples of cacophony in literature that illustrate its varied use in creative writing.

The Scream of a Shrieking Shack

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban employs cacophony through the depiction of the Shrieking Shack, a cursed and haunted building that screams and groans with such frequency and ferocity that Harry has to clench his teeth to avoid the penetrating noise.

Stabbing Sounds in 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'

While T.S. Eliot's famous poem doesn't contain cacophony per se, Eliot frequently employs sharp, stabbing sounds (such as 'four o'clock') that puncture the flow of the poem, creating a jarring effect that reinforces the theme of disillusionment and alienation.