I am looking for a particular word to describe absurd noises which block your hearing.

Not so long ago, I was talking to a friend of mine in a public place and we were unable to hear each other well, due to the surrounding voices and noises.

Is there a word that fits this description?

  • 6
    Background noise
    – ermanen
    May 26, 2014 at 16:15
  • 3
    How would you differentiate "absurd" noise from ordinary background noise?
    – choster
    May 26, 2014 at 16:15
  • I strongly suspect "absurd" was not the intended word. Either that, or we have another case where the local dialect of English diverges from established usage.
    – keshlam
    May 26, 2014 at 22:54
  • The answer is "noise" or "loud noise" or "deafening noise" (though that has specific connotations). Noise already means "unwanted sound"
    – nomen
    May 27, 2014 at 18:43
  • This is a tricky question, as the average human can hear and understand conversation in spite of considerable noise. For the noise to prevent aural comprehension it must be present in certain frequency bands and tempos, and this varies somewhat depending on the conditions (amount of echo in the room, etc). Plus individuals vary in their abilities to decode speech, with the ability weakening as we age. So it's really hard to characterize, in a few words, the sort of noise that prevents the comprehension of speech.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 16, 2015 at 23:22

9 Answers 9


Background noise

In acoustics and specifically in acoustical engineering, background noise or ambient noise is any sound other than the sound being monitored (primary sound). Background noise is a form of noise pollution or interference.

Examples of background noises are environmental noises such as waves, traffic noise, alarms, people talking, bioacoustic noise from animals or birds and mechanical noise from devices such as refrigerators or air conditioning, power supplies or motors.

As you can see from the definition, you can call this block as interference also.

In communications and electronics, especially in telecommunications, interference is anything which alters, modifies, or disrupts a signal as it travels along a channel between a source and a receiver


We had to put up with loud noise and constant interference from the neighbors.

  • 2
    Background noise usually signifies that its in the background, so it really isn't bothering anyone. If it was that loud it would be in the foreground. Interference doesn't make sense here too sense it has an alternative meaning with sound and it just confuses. May 27, 2014 at 6:11


  1. harsh discordance of sound; dissonance: a cacophony of hoots, cackles, and wails.
  2. a discordant and meaningless mixture of sounds: the cacophony produced by city traffic at midday.
  3. Music. frequent use of discords of a harshness and relationship difficult to understand.
  • 1
    A high pitch laugh might be described as cacophony. Not sure I would use that word on crowd noise. This is where definition looks OK but usage tells us different. May 27, 2014 at 6:13

Noise pollution or noise nuisance.

noise pollution is excessive, displeasing human, animal, or machine-created environmental noise that disrupts the activity or balance of human or animal life.

Also, consider peripheral noise and clamor.

clamor: a loud continuous noise: city streets filled with clamor


I'd say deafening noise, as it (almost) prevented you from hearing



I would simply say, "I can't hear with all of that racket going on around us."

confused clattering noise

a loud annoying noise that continues for a long time

  • Along this same vein: ruckus, commotion
    – Preston
    May 27, 2014 at 9:45

Another term is "white noise"... although I think this implies more of a uniform background noise (like what is found on a airplane or if you turn on a fan) than a large group of people talking.


"Noise" already means unwanted sound. In other words, you need an adjective to describe an unwanted sound that stops your hearing. And to that, I offer "loud".

Noise means any unwanted sound. Noise is not necessarily random. Sounds, particularly loud ones, that disturb people or make it difficult to hear wanted sounds, are noise.

Also http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/noise:

2 a any sound that is undesired or interferes with one's hearing of something


Although it doesn't refer directly to noises that block hearing, the term cocktail party effect is relevant. Wiktionary defines it as

the ability (or the difficulty) of focusing one's attention on a single auditory source in a jumble of noises

(See Wikipedia for discussion of research on the topic.) The noise at a cocktail party may be referred to as chatter or cocktail chatter.


The noise you describe might be characterized as obfuscatory, since it conceals or overshadows your friend's words.

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