You may have heard the term cacophony mentioned when referring to the English language. One definition refers to a deafening mixture of sounds all being made at the same time. However, the term cacophony can also be a literary or language technique which is less well known as a definition. In this article, we will be looking at the meaning of cacophony in this context. We are also going to take a look at some examples of how it can be used in both spoken language as well as in written works.
What Is Cacophony?
When used as a literary device, cacophony is the use of words which are sharp, hissing or harsh in order to add effect. These words are usually ones featuring all or mostly consonants within them as these sounds are naturally harsher than the softer sound of a vowel.
When used as a form of figurative language, cacophony can add an unpleasantness to a conversation which can create drama and effect on what is being talked about.
Cacophony can be created in many forms, some examples might be nonsense words which sound inharmonious within a text or speech, other types might feature words directly adjacent to one another in a sentence, which sound very similar to one another resulting in an unpleasant sound. The sound should be dissonant and unpleasant to say or hear.
Cacophony in Conversation
As mentioned previously, cacophony can be used during day to day conversation in order to add effect to the speech. It is designed in order to create a sentence in which unpleasant or inharmonious sounds can be heard. We are now going to take a look at some examples of how cacophony can be used in a conversational context. The examples of cacophony will be highlighted in bold.
- I hate war, because causes of war are always petty.
- The cold chasm is deep and dry.
- The buzzing bees bellowed over head.
- He has a black heart he is no love of mine!
- My sister makes a shriek every time she sees a spider.
- The gel oozed and slopped out of the drain.
- The snake would hiss every time it saw me.
- She constantly scratches, scratches her head and scratches her arm.
- The bird had sharp claws that were scary.
- The dog kept barking at the man.
- During the second world war, there was much propaganda.
- The town was left devastated after the massacre which took place.
- The rat scratched at the outside of cage.
- The pan and pots clashed and clattered as they fell to the ground.
- Her fingernails screeched along the chalk board.
- The fresh caught carp was being grilled on the stove.
Cacophony in Literature
Many times, cacophony will be used as a literary device within written work, whether that be in poetry, stories, script or song. We will now be taking a look at some examples of times in which writers have used cacophony in their work. Once again the cacophony will be highlighted in bold.
- In the story Through the looking glass; what Alice found there written by Lewis Carroll, we see an example of cacophony in the following phrase “It was brillig, in the slithy toves. Did gimble and gyre wave.”
- In another extract of the book Through the looking glass by Lewis Carroll, we find another example of cacophony when he writes “be wary of the Jabberwock my boy, those jaws will bite, those claws will catch.”
- In The bridge by Hart Crane there is a clear example of cacophony in the following phrase “There spouting pillars spore the night sky.” We also see a further example of cacophony in the line “The script of power which is bobbin bound.”
- In Gulliver’s travels written by Jonathan Swift we find an example of cacophony when we read the following sentence; “I was no stranger to war, I tell him about cannons, muskets, pistols, powder, battles.…“
- Samuel Coleridge Taylor uses an example of cacophony in his work Rime to the ancient mariner in which we see the following line “Their necks unslacked and black mouths baked, agape hearing my call.”
- Edgar Allen Poe uses an example of cacophony in much of his poetry, one example can be seen in the following excerpt “Too horrified to talk, all they could do was shriek, shriek.”
- In the play Macbeth written by William Shakespeare, we see a further example of cacophony when we read the line “This is our damn spot, get out say I.”
- The poem, The bells written by Edgar Allen Poe shows us another example of cacophony, take a look at the following line, “Listen to the loud alarm bell, brazen bells. Such a terrible tale does their turbulency tell.”
- In the piece Daddy, written by Sylvia Plath, we see another example of cacophony when we read the following extract. “There is a stake through your black fat heart and no one ever liked you.”
- The man I killed which is written by Tim O’Brien features the use of cacophony during many parts of the text, let’s take a look at an example of this “He was lying with a leg bent underneath him, the jaw was in the throat.“
- Cormac McCarthey uses examples of cacophony in the piece The road, some of these examples can be seen in the following extract, “The screams of the dead, during the day the murdered are impaled upon spikes.”
- Many tongue twisters are considered to be cacophonous due to their nature, one example of this might be “she sells sea shells on the sea shore.”
By looking more closely at cacophony, we have seen that it is used in order to add a more harsh sound to the speech or writing in which it is featured. The technique can be used in both written text and in day to day conversation.
Cacophony often uses consonant sounds since these have a harsher sound than vowels. The idea of cacophony is to create an unpleasant sound which adds to the effect of what is being said or written.