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.
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.
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.”
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:
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.
’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.
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.
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
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:
- 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.
- 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 is sometimes cacophonic, but cacophony is not always onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia are words which sound like their meaning. Here are a few examples of onomatopoeia:
- Bang! Boom! Pow!
- 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.
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:
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.
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.