What is it called when two people (usually kids) stop talking for a while after a fight or an argument because they are mad at each other?


11 Answers 11


As zondo says, above, such people aren't speaking to each other. (This is pretty much true even if they do literally say a few words for logistical reasons -- "I need to get out. Move your car" -- as long as they are doing what they can to avoid speaking.)

People aren't on speaking terms if they are doing this as a sort of policy long-term. You wouldn't say that if they're just too angry to speak for a couple of days, but you would if months go by and they are deliberately avoiding speaking.

The silent treatment is a deliberate plan to punish the other party by being silent, as opposed to avoiding speaking for some other reason (like being too angry or hurt to converse).

Such people may also be avoiding each other, but that doesn't imply anger.

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    "Not on speaking terms" is the only phrase I can think of that clearly describes the mutuality, or reciprocity, of the silence, which I think distinguishes this phrase from all of the suggestions thus far. Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 2:07
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    @hunterhogan How does "aren't speaking to each other" not indicate that it's mutual?
    – DCShannon
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 16:14

This sounds like a classic case of the silent treatment.

Silent treatment (often referred to as the silent treatment) is verbal silence imposed onto another. It may range from just sulking to malevolent abusive controlling behaviour. It may be a passive-aggressive form of emotional abuse in which displeasure, disapproval and contempt is exhibited through nonverbal gestures while maintaining verbal silence. Clinical psychologist Harriet Braiker identifies it as a form of manipulative punishment.


This could be used to refer to either one person not talking to another, or with two people they'd be giving each other the silent treatment, but zondo's comment of "not on speaking terms" is also valid.

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    The Wikipedia article confirms my gut feeling that the silent treatment is something one person (or group) imposes on another, and includes refusing to acknowledge attempts by the second party to communicate.  Therefore, the idea of two people giving each other the silent treatment strikes me as something of an oxymoron. Commented Apr 2, 2016 at 21:31
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    @Scott I could possibly beg to differ. :) Commented Apr 2, 2016 at 21:33
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    @Scott I have to agree. I've never heard of the "silent treatment" being a mutual thing between 2 people. I've always heard it used as something one person does to another. I'm not saying that it's necessarily correct, but it's the only usage of the phrase I've ever heard. Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 0:35
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    @Carcigenicate - If I'm mad at someone, I might give them the silent treatment. If the feelings are mutual, we might give each other the silent treatment – as is discussed at length in this blog post. Since hurt feelings often run bidirectionally, this isn't all that uncommon.
    – J.R.
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 2:00
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    IMHO the silent treatment is a form of psychopathic/narcissistic abuse, there are always an abuser and a victim, I don't understand how this can be mutual. Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 7:59

You could also say that they are giving each other the cold shoulder.

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    To give someone the cold shoulder is broader than just not speaking to them; it's to dismiss them altogether, or to be completely indifferent to them.
    – Adam Liss
    Commented Apr 2, 2016 at 19:03

For two kids, you can say they are sulking. Sulk, defined by Merriam Webster

to be angry or upset about something and to refuse to discuss it with other people

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    I think sulking has more to do with basking in self-pity than not talking.
    – Jim
    Commented Apr 2, 2016 at 20:26
  • Merriam-Webster disagrees :D >www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sulking
    – acekidpro
    Commented Apr 2, 2016 at 20:28
  • I added the reference and the link. Please note that answers here are supposed to have a reference and, if an online reference, a link.
    – ab2
    Commented Apr 2, 2016 at 20:46
  • The dictionary definition you quote doesn't really support your answer if taken literally. It says they will reuse to discuss that particular issue that makes them upset, not be silent in general. Commented Apr 2, 2016 at 21:05
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    I think that if I am glaring or looking daggers at you across the room and I refuse to talk to you I am not sulking. If we've had an argument and I stalk off to my room and refuse to come out and talk to you then I'm sulking.
    – Jim
    Commented Apr 2, 2016 at 21:25

An estrangement or to be estranged, but this is usually reserved for when there is an emotional distance due to some unresolvable turmoil in a familial/spousal context, not usually used for pouting children. An estrangement can be one-sided, mutual, or involving more than 2 parties.


You might consider, fall out

To break a relationship or form a negative relationship as a result of a dispute.

fall out with someone; have a falling-out with someone

To break a relationship or form a negative relationship with someone.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs

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    'Fall out' is incorrect - 2 friends might 'fall out' which leads to them not talking or not speaking, but the act of not communicating is not the 'fall out', rather it is a consequence of the falling out.
    – Steve Ives
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 8:12
  • Indeed, you might fall out with someone, but still have to communicate with them. Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 22:16

If the mutual silence is due to an impasse in an argument, the silence can be referred to as a standoff:

An argument, contest, etc., in which there is no winner

In this case, there is no "winner" because there is no resolution.

This is related to the personality descriptor standoffish: such a person is inclined to reserved or silent disagreement rather than pursuit of a resolution or compromise.


If both parties are waiting for the other to break the silence first, it is sometimes colloquially referred to as a Mexican Standoff.

  • This is by extension. "Mexican Standoff" refers to a situation where several people are pointing guns at one another.
    – DCShannon
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 16:15

Since the context is "usually kids", you can say that they are snubbing each other.

Snub verb 1 Rebuff, ignore, or spurn disdainfully: he snubbed faculty members and students alike - ODO


In my country(South américa, Chile) it´s popular to call it "Ice Law" or "Ley del Hielo" (ignoring each other).


There is also Excommunication, which has deep roots in religion, but is also used in contemporary contexts, in much the same way as the "Sent to Coventry" referenced in other answers.

  • Excommunication strictly applies to banishment or expulsion from a church, almost exclusively christian churches. There really are no other general uses of the word. Perhaps you're thinking of incommunicado?
    – J...
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 14:49
  • I disagree with your assertion that it is strictly used in church contexts. Eg. "The management team isn't talking to me, it's like I've been excommunicated". To me, incommunicado implies that both parties are mutually not in contact with each other, whereas excommunication is very much one sided. Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 22:12
  • I would call that usage explicit simile, it doesn't counter the point. For example, I could say, "Being stabbed with an obsidian blade was like being electrocuted". That doesn't at all imply that "electrocuted" is a suitable word to use for being stabbed, generally.
    – J...
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 22:34
  • Yes, it was an explicit simile, for the purposes of making it explicit, but I've definitely seen implicit usage, in the same way that a non-Catholic person can say "I need to confess my sins" even though they can't possibly have sinned and they have no intention of talking to a priest. "That deluded forum mod has excommunicated me". Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 22:40

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