by Kate Woodford
In this post we look at a range of words and phrases that we use to describe noise and the absence of noise. Starting with complete quiet, we sometimes use the noun hush to describe silence: A hush fell over the room as the bride walked in./There was a deathly hush (=complete silence) after the announcement.
A slight noise that you cannot hear well may be described as faint or low: There’s a faint hissing noise coming from behind the TV./They spoke in low voices and I couldn’t hear what they were saying? (Of course, ‘low’ used to describe a voice can also mean ‘near the bottom of a range of sounds’.) A sound that is quiet and not clear may be described as muffled: I could hear muffled voices next door, but I couldn’t make out any words. A muted noise, meanwhile, is more quiet than you would expect, sometimes suggesting a lack of enthusiasm: The applause, when it came, was muted.
A loud noise that is unpleasant and continues for a while may be called a din or a (informal) racket: They were making such a racket outside that I couldn’t sleep./I had to shout to make myself heard above the din. A commotion is a continuous, loud noise that suggests confusion or arguments: What was all the commotion about next door? A hubbub is similar and suggests the noise of people talking excitedly: It was hard to hear what anyone was saying in the general hubbub. A continuous loud noise made by hard objects hitting each other is sometimes called a clatter: The clatter coming from the kitchen made conversation almost impossible.
There are some very common phrases that relate to sound and the lack of it. If a place is so noisy that you cannot give your attention to anything, you might complain that you can’t hear yourself think: Kids, can you stop shouting, please? I can’t hear myself think! A radio/television/hi-fi, etc. that is extremely loud is sometimes described as blaring (out) or being at full blast: My granddad had the television on at full blast./Music was blaring out from speakers at the side of the pool. On the other hand, to describe a place or a situation that was completely quiet, with no one speaking, you might say you could have heard a pin drop: We all stood in stunned silence. You could have heard a pin drop.