I'd like to use the phrase "fingernails on a chalkboard" in a simile, to describe something as being similar to an incredibly unpleasant auditory experience, except that chalkboards aren't as commonly used as they used to be; "audio feedback screech" is also something that (in my experience) doesn't happen as often in the current day. Is there a phrase that the most recent generation would be familiar with that conveys the same meaning?

  • A dentist's drill is still horrid, though better than it used to be. Train screeching ('rail squeal' I gather it's called). Feedback does still happen: especially in music studios with a crap engineer. It used to be called 'howlround'. Ed Sheeran? Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 5:15
  • Do you mean something like hyperacusis or auditory hyperaesthesia?
    – djs
    Commented Oct 6, 2019 at 17:14
  • @djs No, not increased sensitivity, but a sound that anyone would find really unpleasant. Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 3:41

2 Answers 2


I prefer the term "sounds like cRap music". Of course, only us old farts would probably agree with that and we remember chalkboards.

  • 1
    Grumpy, welcome to SE EL&U! That is an automatic response from the review process of this site. A place your answer arrived at because someone else flagged it as "low quality". Answers that are presented in the form of a question, and with little to no backing/research, are considered comments on this site. If you rephrase it and add more details/backing to it, it would be considered an answer and not a comment. It's not about what I think, but what standards the community has put in place.
    – Hank
    Commented May 21, 2020 at 16:31
  • Nails on a chalkboard make a sound that almost everybody finds unpleasant, and certainly the way the idiom "like fingernails on a chalkboard" is used implies that nobody would like the sound even if that's not literally true. A comparison to rap music is not equivalent because although some people hate it many are indifferent and many enjoy it.
    – nnnnnn
    Commented Jun 21, 2020 at 3:42

I suggest you classify all these noises under "offensive or obnoxious sounds".

What sounds one would include on the list is very subjective.

I, for one, would certainly include the sound of a spoon scraping the bottom of a saucepan. Some people may include the sound of a pneumatic drill on the sidewalk, or the sound of rusty hinges, though.

  • A spoon scraping the bottom of a saucepan just makes me hungry.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 22, 2020 at 1:32
  • "Like fingernails on a chalkboard" (or "nails on a blackboard" as we'd say in Australia) was widely understood to be viscerally unpleasant for everybody, and was used metaphorically even about non-auditory sensations. I don't think the spoon/saucepan thing has the same sort of universal application.
    – nnnnnn
    Commented Jun 21, 2020 at 3:30

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