I'm looking for the word that means certain words when placed together sound bad. Example: Mary is sad because she had bad luck. Better wording: Sadness engulfed Mary after she experienced misfortune. What is the word that means example numer one SOUNDS awkward?

  • 2
    Awkward. Bad will do, too. Or you could specify the reason you think it sounds bad: too simplistic. I frankly prefer your first example over thesupposedly "better" wording, so I would say convoluted, obtuse, wordy, or pretentious.
    – phoog
    Jul 20, 2015 at 22:30
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    I prefer the first sentence. Please say in what way it is bad sounding. Jul 20, 2015 at 22:42
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    The woman's suspicious behaviour made Clouseau suspicious. This is an incongruous juxtaposition. Jul 20, 2015 at 22:46
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    To add my vote: The first sentence is OK. The second sentence sounds as though you are trying too hard. Is it sad, had, bad that worries you? It doesn't look or sound that bad.
    – ab2
    Jul 21, 2015 at 0:24
  • The first sentence is better - the latter is too melodramatic.
    – superato
    Apr 10, 2016 at 18:23

3 Answers 3


discordant -

disagreeable to the ear; dissonant; harsh.

dissonant was my first thought, but it's not as apt as discordant for your example. I think of dissonant as something that's off, not something that's just jarring to the ear.

You have to be careful to distinguish this use of the word from the more common meaning of being in disagreement.


Dissonant "To disagree in sound.....Disagreeing; incongruent." Webster's New Collegiate. It is usually used in music, but is not confined to music. "If things don't go together well, you can call them dissonant. Dissonant voices are saying different things. Dissonant clothing choices clash. Dissonant chords lack harmony." -- vocabulary.com

  • I got up to feed the cat and got scooped. Priority goes to stevesilva.
    – ab2
    Jul 21, 2015 at 0:20
  • I suggested a synonym. Your answer is fine by me. I struggle to explain my preference for one vs. the other.
    – stevesliva
    Jul 21, 2015 at 0:24
  • This is a possible answer to the question as posed in the title, but it should be emphasised that it is not applicable to the sentence that the OP used as an example in the body of the question (as you have yourself pointed out above, it is not clear what the OP regarded as problematic about that sentence).
    – jsw29
    Oct 29, 2020 at 15:26
  • @jsw29 I can't argue with your comment! But I am disappointed that, after more than 5 years, no one has reacted to the word-play in my first comment, above.
    – ab2
    Oct 29, 2020 at 19:57

Cacophony has a similar definition in both the American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828 by Noah Webster and Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary 1913. The latter has an example so I'll just quote that one to reduce redundancy:

  1. (Rhet.) An uncouth or disagreable sound of words, owing to the concurrence of harsh letters or syllables. Cacophonies of all kinds." Pope. "

Aside from the rhetorical use of the word, it also has specific medical and musical senses which are less relevant here. Unfortunately, I do not think people are as careful to use the word in as specific of a sense these days, so it may just be understood as simply sounding bad irrespective of context. It is a shame, given how much more useful specific words are.

In more recent years it seems to have gained the adjective cacophonous, with the adverb cacophonously, which are the fifth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.

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