English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Does the high-pitched sound of nails scratching a chalkboard have a name?

I thought of "squeaking" or "screeching" but I don't think either of them correctly describes it.

share|improve this question
Sheer torture! Just kidding, I have no idea what it's called. Screeching is about the best I could come up with but I'm not totally happy with it either. – Lynn Dec 17 '11 at 22:42
Screeching isn't a name, but rather a description of the sound. – Oldcat Oct 22 '14 at 19:23
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Writers tend to use the phrase nails on a chalkboard to describe the sound:

“The music of veteran pop singer Cliff Richard apparently is like nails on a chalkboard to hooligans.” [CNN]

Apparently, nobody has been able to capture the sound's singular power to excruciate in an onomatopoeia.

share|improve this answer
If the word were onomatopoeic, it would hardly be used, would it? – JeffSahol Dec 18 '11 at 4:11
@JeffSahol I'd have a word to describe my neighbor's voice... – Gnawme Dec 18 '11 at 4:37
Hey what would an onomatopoeic word for silence sound like? – JeffSahol Dec 18 '11 at 18:03
I wouldn't be surprised if there was a lovely poetic term like tintinnabulation or susurrus. – Gnawme Dec 18 '11 at 21:18
I've always heard "fingernails on a blackboard". – Hot Licks Feb 25 '15 at 20:29

I would call it chalkboard screech.

share|improve this answer

Since there really isn't just one word that captures the true essence of the sound, how about slapping an adjective on the front? E.g. shrill screech.

share|improve this answer

I would suggest the onomatopoeia "scree".

The sound this describes is common in many videogames and movies with pterosaur-like animals; it always reminded me (unpleasantly) of nails on a chalkboard.

Her nails on the chalkboard made a shrill "SCREEEEEE" that sent shivers down my spine.

A somewhat-related video for reference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5hrMdtOmrU&feature=related (The sound I'm describing can be heard starting at 0:10).

share|improve this answer

I like the sound of 'screak', because of that 'k'. The Oxford English Dictionary's examples don't mention blackboards, but do mention violins.

share|improve this answer

Chill-sending screech.

I would say "chill-sending screech" because of the way nails on a chalkboard send chills down one's back.

share|improve this answer

Maybe some kind of grating screech? Or try and describe the effects of the sound- perhaps by comparing it to the scraping of fingernails down the insides of your ears???

share|improve this answer

Chill-sending screech.

I would describe the sound nails make running against a chalkboard as a "chill-sending screech" because, as we all know, the sound sends chills down your back.

Ex: The teacher made a chill-sending noise when she slid her nails against the chalkboard.

share|improve this answer

protected by tchrist Feb 25 '15 at 22:46

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.