The word or phrase I am looking for is quite opposite to that of the situation when people, such as students or sports players, sing their national anthem with the same tone and words.

I want a single word or even phrase that can describe the situation when two or more people speak at the same time with different tone and words . . . and at the end, the listener cannot get what they are saying. This situation can be found while debating, telling a news about any incident or even while complaining.

Due to _____ , the teacher could not get what they are saying.

If it's not feasible to find a noun or phrase for such situation, then here I request to have an adverb standing alone to describe how they are speaking, for instance, what is the adverb for "at the same time"?.

Here is how, I want to convert sentence 1 into sentence 2.

  1. They spoke at the same time, and the teacher could not get what they are saying.

  2. They spoke _____ , and the teacher could not get what they are saying.

picture for the situation speaking at same time

  • 4
    In transcripts, speech that was unintelligible due to multiple people talking at once is often noted as [crosstalk] Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 13:38
  • 'Populus interruptus'.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 21:27

6 Answers 6


If you are interested in a single word, consider babel:

A confused noise made by a number of voices.
the babel of voices on the road
Oxford Living Dictionaries

Not to be confused with babble, although it can be used as a synonym.

Hearing only babel, the teacher could not understand them.
Hearing only babble, the teacher could not understand them.

Your question is also open to phrases. The phrase talk over each other is most common in situations where more than one person are trying to make their point to either each other or to the same listener, but are not letting each other finish before speaking themselves. However, it seems to be a close match to the situations you posit.

They were talking over each other, and the teacher could not understand them.

However, the word simultaneously is a good single word to replace the phrase at the same time.

While perhaps more commonly used, babble is not specific to multiple people, and connotes rapidity in speech which is not part of your description. This difference in precision is likely unimportant in your example usage, since the usage context should sufficiently make clear the intended meaning.

The mass noun definition of babble makes it a near synonym to babel:

The sound of people talking simultaneously.
the answers were difficult to hear amid the babble of conversation
Oxford Living Dictionaries

However, babble has a singular form:

Foolish, excited, or confused talk.
her soft voice stopped his babble
Oxford Living Dictionaries

And its verb form specifically calls for rapid speech:

Talk rapidly and continuously in a foolish, excited, or incomprehensible way.
they babbled on about their holiday
Oxford Living Dictionaries

Babel is particularly appropriate in the case that there are multiple conversations being spoken simultaneously in more than one language, but the multi-lingual aspect of it is only to more closely match the Biblical metaphor.

5But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

8So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9That is why it was called Babel — because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Genesis 11:5-9

More about the myth of the Tower of Babel can be found on Wikipedia.

In common usage, it just refers to the incomprehensible noise of many people talking.

It is interesting to note that although babel and babble sound similar and have similar definitions, they are not etymologically related. Babel was taken from the Bible, and was a translation of the Hebrew name for a city that was referring to Babylon.
Origin section of ODO
Etymology section of Wikipedia

On the other hand, babble seems to come to English from the German word babbelen, perhaps from Latin babulus or Greek barbaros, and probably originated as onomatopoeia of baby-talk.
Origin section of ODO

  • 4
    I have accepted your answer, and I got what I wanted. Here is what the Collins Dictionary says something about the word babel: "If there is a babel of voices, you hear a lot of people talking at the same time, so that you cannot understand what they are saying."
    – Ahmed
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 9:28
  • 3
    @Ahmed I've always seen your example written as "a babble of voices", meaning exactly the same thing. "A Babel of voices" sounds either mis-spelled or like an older form of the phrasing. Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 13:06
  • 6
    I have never heard this usage of the word, and would be confused by this usage, and on those grounds, @Ahmed, I suggest you don’t use this answer. Literally every other answer (currently) on this page is superior.
    – KRyan
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 18:40
  • 2
    Ngram shows a surprising amount of usage for a word I'd swear I've never heard. Anyone ever heard it in a TV show or a movie that isn't talking about a tower?
    – Mazura
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 23:17
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    [Today I Learned] - Babel and Babble are etymologically distinct. And yes, Babel is technically closer to the intended meaning, though I think in most situations Babble is more common as a colloquial usage. Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 8:16

They’re “talking over each other”.

This expression is frequently heard on television talk shows--the host pleading with the guests not to talk over each other. A Google search of "please don't talk over each other" will be productive, e.g.,:

Wolf Blitzer to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders during a 2016 primary television debate:

“If you're both screaming at each other, the viewers won't be able to hear either of you, so please don't talk over each other,” Blitzer asked.

Email to Barbara Walters of the View, 2014 or so:

Please, please, please don't talk over each other on the View. When all of you do that, the viewing audience cannot hear what anyone is saying.

Although the OP's question seems to concern teachers, the photo does not appear to be students with a teacher, but rather adults dressed for the workplace.

Typical human conversations often include interruptions and digressions, but "talking over each other" is especially pertinent to two or more people answering a question or making a point simultaneously to an interviewer or a teacher.

The phrasal verb is "to talk over [someone] [each other]". The same phrase has another meaning: to discuss something to resolve differences: "to talk [it] over."

  • 3
    Talking over each other implies that they're talking spefically to drown each other out (i.e. both people are trying to have a one-way discussion where they talk and the other listens), which may not be the case for OP.
    – Flater
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 8:55
  • 6
    @Flater - Really? I don't associate the term with an intentional drowning out...simply two people (typically enthusiastic about the subject perhaps) talking at the same time. While yes, they could be explicitly trying to drown the other out, I don't think that's implicit in the phrase.
    – BruceWayne
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 15:12
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    @Xanne, this does not answer my question, and your answer is not detailed enough to clarify what you are refering to. That's why I am going to downvote this.
    – Ahmed
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 2:41
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    @Ahmed First of all, this is absolutely (IMO) the correct answer and the phrasing that you should consider using. Secondly, flagging it is entirely inappropriate. Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 12:41
  • 2
    @Ahmed, I don't know what the argument you are having is about, but this is clearly the correct answer.
    – JonSG
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 15:34

This sounds like crosstalk.

Crosstalk refers to audio in which two speakers are talking over one another. Inaudible occurrences are denoted with brackets ([crosstalk]).

It appears to be primarily used in this sense in transcription and captioning, but it would be likely understood in other contexts.

  • 2
    That sounds as if it might have migrated from the technicians in the work environments of captioning and transcription, for whom 'crosstalk' means unwanted interference between insufficiently screened signals. Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 17:27
  • 1
    Crosstalk carries the connotation of talking about a topic unrelated to the topic at hand.
    – jxh
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 18:12

I think you may be looking for the adverb, simultaneously (literally means "at the same time").

  • 3
    The noun form of the word is simultaneity. (But although correct, using it in the first sentence in the question would sound odd.) Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 5:37
  • 4
    This site prefers answers that are detailed (e.g. dictionary definition) and referenced (e.g. hyperlink to source of the detail). Answers that don't meet these expectations tend to get down-voted. You can add these details using the edit link. At the same time, you could add @JasonBassford's comment to give further detail in your answer. Using people's comments to improve answers is strongly encouraged! :-) Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 6:06
  • That's a great answer! But fits the secondary request of the OP. :)
    – user296301
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 9:32
  • 1
    American here. I don't think I've ever heard babel or babble used in the context the OP wants. This is how I would phrase it for a single word. Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 17:34

A cacophony would be a possible term for a clamour of voices. Some indication of the cause of the noise might be needed: "a cacophony of protest", or: "There was a torrent of questions. In the cacophony ..."

Following their etymology, clamour carries a connotation of volume; cacophony, of discordancy. While often used in this context to describe its noise, neither specifically refers to simultaneous speech.

  • 1
    Cacophony doesn't specifically point out that the sound was made by talking. It could be any conflict of sounds, e.g. workmen nearby, traffic, a badly coordinated orchestra, ...
    – Flater
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 8:56
  • 2
    @Flater I agree. Hence the qualification in my answer. Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 8:59
  • 1
    @RobinBetts - Welcome to ELU. We expect well researched and stand-alone answers on this site. What does "cacophony" mean? When suggested a word, I'd recommend a dictionary definition of the word to support your answer, and a reference (weblink if from an online dictionary) to where you got that definition. I know what you mean by "not specifically descriptive", but the OP may not as the OP may not have come across "cacophony" before.
    – AndyT
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 9:03
  • @AndyT Okydoky, I'll study more answers on ELU, and try to pick up how to satisfy the requirements. Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 9:34

A hubbub would be the term I would naturally use for this. It means exactly what you are after - a chaotic jumble of voices as multiple people speak out of sync with each other.

To me, cacophony would be more about other noises, like clanging or musical instruments or traffic.

In your example sentence, it would be used like this:

Due to the hubbub, the teacher could not get what they are saying.

  • True. 'Hubbub' is less metaphorical. It's definitely voices. It also has a more passive, emergent flavor, though - of background (although possibly animated) conversation, which is not particularly directed at the teacher, and not made up of voices competing for the teacher's attention? Maybe that's what the OP is looking for. Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 17:14

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