Noun > Dissonance

Noun – Dissonance

The word “dissonance” has Latin roots that mean “sounding apart.”

Literally speaking, dissonance is a harsh, ugly combination of two or more sounds, especially in music.

More figuratively speaking, dissonance is a lack of harmony or a lack of consistency. In other words, when there’s dissonance within something, its parts don’t match up, don’t sound good together, or don’t make sense together.

Part of speech:
noun, both the countable kind (“there’s a dissonance between those things”) and the uncountable kind (“there’s dissonance between those things”).

Other common forms:
dissonant, dissonantly.

how to use it:
This word is formal and common, with a negative tone.

You might be literal and talk about dissonance in a musical chord, or the dissonance among singers in a choir or players in a band. You might complain of the dissonance between two voices desperately trying to sing karaoke together. (Once you’re up there, you can’t hear yourself or your friend, either! Dissonance happens!)

Often, we’re more figurative. We talk about the dissonance within something that’s supposed to be consistent, or the dissonance between two things that are supposed to match up with each other: “the dissonance between her statements and her decisions,” “the dissonance between his beliefs and his actions,” “the dissonance between their interpretations of this situation,” “the dissonance between the upbeat melody and the melancholy lyrics.”

“The bell was used, while I was there, to call the workmen to their daily labor; but its tones were always mournful, and vibrated with strange dissonance across the sea.”
— Samuel Adams Drake, Nooks and Corners of the New England Coast, 1875

“To the crowd of voters who gathered in the garden of a New Hampshire home on a serene summer’s day in June, Elizabeth Warren expressed her sincere gratitude. There was a dissonance, she acknowledged, between the ‘gorgeous’ setting and the bleak picture she would paint of a democracy in peril. ‘Our country’s in real trouble,’ Warren said, pacing as she spoke.”
— Lauren Gambino, The Guardian, 8 July 2019

In an article titled “Too nice for the likes of us: why buying fancy stuff makes us miserable,” the Guardian cites a study suggesting that when people splurge on luxury goods, they feel a painful dissonance, a mismatch between their true selves and the fancy people they’re pretending to be.