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‘Noisy’ or ‘Noisome’?

Remind yourself that "noisome" means stinky, and don’t use "noisome" in a sentence where a misinformed reader could interpret it to mean "noisy."

By
Mignon Fogarty,
April 5, 2018

What’s the Trouble? Noisome has nothing to do with noise.

“Noisome" sounds like “noisy,” but that’s not what it means. A noisome problem offends your nose, not your ears. It means “offensive or disgusting,” but is used almost exclusively to describe smells.

Here’s an example from an 1874 book called “Tiny Travelers.” 

“There is a good deal of mud deposited at the bottom of the canals, which, when disturbed by barges, produces a most noisome effluvium.”

It’s not a coincidence that the example is from the 1800s because “noisome” is falling out of favor. A Google Books search shows that it was used much more often in the early 1800s and has been in steady decline ever since.

a graph of the use of "noisome" declining over time.

Here are two more examples:

If the river Thames itself had been turned into the House of Commons with its full stream, it could hardly have caused greater perturbation than was excited this week by the presence of its noisome stench. Its vicinity is perceived in all the chambers of that legislative place. Sir S. M. Peto opened the subject by notices of motion which required returns of all the deodorizing methods now pursued. — “Medical Annotations” in "The Lancet"

No man can look into a tender, where pressed men are confined, without pitying those who have the misfortune of being shut up in such noisome dungeons. — The Parliamentary History of England from the  Earliest Period to the Year 1803

Your Quick and Dirty Tip is to remember that “noisome” means stinky, and don’t use “noisome” in a sentence where a misinformed reader could interpret it to mean “noisy.”

And these days, unless you’re going for a pompous or old-timey sound, “noisy” is almost always the word you want.

Mignon Fogarty is Grammar Girl and the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips. Check out her New York Times best-seller, “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.