The Grammarphobia Blog

The noisome origins of ‘noisy’

Q: “Noisome” and “noisy” look alike, despite their different meanings. Are they linguistically related?

A: No, “noisome” (smelly or disgusting) and “noisy” (making a lot of noise) aren’t etymologically related, though “noisy” very likely had smelly origins.

“Noisome,” which showed up in the 14th century, was derived from the combination of “noy,” an archaic form of “annoy,” with the suffix “-some”.

“Noisy,” which also appeared in the 1300s, is derived from “noise,” a word that English borrowed from Anglo-Norman in the 12th century.

Although “noisy” isn’t etymologically related to “noisome,” the noun “noise” probably had noisome origins in classical times, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

The OED says the classical source of “noise” is likely nausea, Latin for sea sickness. That literal sense apparently evolved in the Romance languages to “upset, malaise,” then “disturbance, uproar” and finally “noise, din.”

The dictionary’s earliest citation for “noisome” is from the Wycliffe Bible of 1382: foolys þoo thyngis þat ben noȝesum to þem shul coueiten” (“fools shall covet those things that be noisome to them”).

The first OED example for “noisy” is from The Country-Wife, a 1675 comedy by the English playwright William Wycherley: “Your noisy pert Rogue of a wit, the greatest Fop, dullest Ass, and worst Company as you shall see.”

Finally, the dictionary’s earliest citation for “noise” is from Ancrene Riwle, an anonymous guide for monastic women that probably dates from sometime before 1200:

“Þe prude beoð his bemeres; draheð wind inward worltlich hereword, and eft wið idel ȝelp puffeð hit utward as þe bemeres doð, makieð noise” (“The proud are his trumpeters; they draw in the wind of worldly praise, and then, with vain boasting, puff it out again, as the trumpeter doth, to maketh noise”). We’ve expanded the OED citation to add context.

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