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From Late Middle English schrille, shirle, shrille (of a sound: high-pitched, piercing; producing such a sound),[1] possibly from the earlier shil, schille (loud, resounding; high-pitched, shrill; audible, clear; melodious, sweet-sounding), from Old English scill (sonorous sounding),[2] of Germanic origin.[3] The r in the word was introduced by analogy to Middle English skrīke, skrīken, scrēmen,[1] possibly to avoid confusion with non-Anglian forms of schelle (modern English shell) where Old English scill (sonorous sounding) and scill (shell) existed.

The word is cognate with Icelandic skella (crash, bang, slam), Low German schrell (sharp in taste or tone).[3]



shrill (comparative shriller, superlative shrillest)

  1. High-pitched and piercing.
    The woods rang with shrill cries of the birds.
  2. Having a shrill voice.
    • 1872, M[ary] E[lizabeth] Braddon, “A Dread Revelation”, in Charlotte’s Inheritance. A Novel (Harper’s Library of Select Novels; no. 311), New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers, publishers, Franklin Square, OCLC 318387595, book VIII (A Fight against Time), page 105, column 1:
      "It is Miss Halliday!" cried the house-maid, as she opened the door. "And oh my," she added, looking back into the hall with a sorrowful face, "how bad she do look!" [...] "Oh, don't she look white!" cried a shrill girl with a baby in her arms.
  3. Sharp or keen to the senses.
    • 2010 October 14, Jacqueline Friedrich, “Son follows in late winemaker Didier Dagueneau’s storied footsteps”, in Los Angeles Times[1], archived from the original on 1 December 2017:
      Rather than shrill, feisty whites tasting of grass, green beans, gooseberry or pipi de chat (the somehow more polite French term for cat's pee), [Didier] Dagueneau's Sauvignons were statuesque, beautifully balanced wines with flavors reminiscent of citrus zests, apricot, fig, passion fruit and minerals.
  4. (figuratively, derogatory, especially of a complaint or demand) Fierce, loud, strident.

Coordinate terms[edit]

Derived terms[edit]



shrill (third-person singular simple present shrills, present participle shrilling, simple past and past participle shrilled)

  1. To make a shrill noise.
    • 1579, Immeritô [pseudonym; Edmund Spenser], “Nouember. Aegloga Vndecima.”, in The Shepheardes Calender: [], London: [] Hugh Singleton, [], OCLC 606515406; republished as The Shepheardes Calender [], London: [] Iohn Wolfe for Iohn Harrison the yonger, [], 1586, OCLC 837880809, folio 45, recto:
      And all wee dwell in deadly night, / O heauie herſe. / Breake we our pipes, that ſhrild as lowde as Larke, / O carefull verſe.
    • c. 1602 (date written), William Shakespeare, The Famous Historie of Troylus and Cresseid. [] (First Quarto), London: [] G[eorge] Eld for R[ichard] Bonian and H[enry] Walley, [], published 1609, OCLC 951696502, [Act V, scene iii]:
      Harke how Troy roares, how Hecuba cries out, / How poore Andromache ſhrils her dolours foorth, / Behold deſtruction, frenzie, and amazement, / Like witleſſe antiques one another meete, / And all crie Hector, Hectors dead, O Hector.
    • 1714, J[ohn] Gay, “Saturday; or, The Flights”, in The Shepherd’s Week. In Six Pastorals, London: [] R. Burleigh [], OCLC 22942401, lines 47–50, page 56:
      Not ballad-ſinger plac'd above the croud, / Sings with a note ſo ſhrilling ſweet and loud, / Nor pariſh clerk who calls the pſalm ſo clear, / Like Bowzybeus ſooths th' attentive ear.
      An adjectival use.
    • 1766, [Oliver Goldsmith], “A Ballad”, in The Vicar of Wakefield: [], volume II, Salisbury, Wiltshire: [] B. Collins, for F[rancis] Newbery, [], OCLC 938500648; reprinted London: Elliot Stock, 1885, OCLC 21416084, page 57:
      The labourers of the day were all retired to reſt; the lights were out in every cottage; no ſounds were heard but of the ſhrilling cock, and the deep-mouthed watch-dog, at hollow diſtance.
    • 1791, Homer; W[illiam] Cowper, transl., “[The Iliad.] Book XVII.”, in The Iliad and Odyssey of Homer, Translated into Blank Verse, [], volume I, London: [] J[oseph] Johnson, [], OCLC 779243096, lines 913–918, page 481:
      They, as a cloud of ſtarlings or of daws / Fly ſcreaming ſhrill, warn'd timely of the kite / Or hawk, devourers of the ſmaller kinds, / So they ſhrill—clamouring toward the fleet, / Haſted before Æneas and the might / Of Hector, nor the battle heeded more.
    • 1842, Alfred Tennyson, “Morte d’Arthur”, in Poems. [], volume II, London: Edward Moxon, [], OCLC 1008064829, page 13:
      [F]rom them rose / A cry that shiver'd to the tingling stars, / And, as it were one voice, an agony / Of lamentation, like a wind, that shrills / All night in a waste land, where no one comes, / Or hath come, since the making of the world.
    • 1880 November 12, Lew[is] Wallace, chapter IV, in Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers, [], OCLC 458843234, book fourth, page 195:
      [H]e paused, while his hands clutched, and his voice shrilled with passion— [...]
    • 1942 July-August, Philip Spencer, “On the Footplate in Egypt”, in Railway Magazine, page 208:
      As the guard's whistle shrilled the "right away," I made to join my companions in the train, but with a smile the driver, whose name was Abdul, bade me take the fireman's seat.
    • 2003, Paul Lathan, chapter 6, in The Cemetery Within, Victoria, B.C.: Trafford Publishing, →ISBN, page 36:
      'Cause the owls only call out when something happens the rest of us can't understand. When they shrill, it's something terrible, [...]
    • 2010, Ray Jones, “The Night Before”, in The Suits: An Animated Way to Look at Family Life, Bloomington, Ind.: iUniverse, →ISBN, page 3:
      As she stumbles over scattered clothes, randomly kicked-off shoes, newspapers, and video games, she finally reaches the telephone, as it shrills out its cries to be picked up.
    • 2017 November 10, Daniel Taylor, “Youthful England earn draw with Germany but Lingard rues late miss”, in The Guardian[2], London, archived from the original on 28 March 2018:
      Jesse Lingard, another substitute, was only eight yards out when Harry Maguire’s knock-down fell for him but it was a wild finish and [Gareth] Southgate still had his head in his hands when the final whistle shrilled.

Derived terms[edit]



shrill (plural shrills)

  1. A shrill sound.
    • 1591, Ed[mund] Sp[enser], “The Ruines of Time”, in Complaints. Containing Sundrie Small Poemes of the Worlds Vanitie. [], London: [] William Ponsonbie, [], OCLC 15537294, part 6:
      [W]hen at laſt / I heard a voyce, which loudly to me called, / That with ſuddein ſhrill I was appalled.
    • 2015, Cliff[ord J.] Schexnayder, Builders of the Hoosac Tunnel[3], Portsmouth, N.H.: Peter E. Randall, →ISBN:
      The shrill of the whistle from the locomotive “Charlestown” announced the arrival of the first train into Fitchburg on 5 March 1845— [...]
    • 2018, Jaco Bakker; Johannes A. M. Langermans, “Ultrasonic Components of Vocalizations in Marmosets”, in Stefan M. Brudzynski, editor, Handbook of Ultrasonic Vocalization: A Window into the Emotional Brain (Handbook of Behavioral Neuroscience), London; San Diego, Calif.: Academic Press, →ISBN, part L (Ultrasonic Vocalization in Other Vertebrate Taxa), page 539, column 2:
      Sonographic example of two consecutive loud shrills of a common marmoset, showing sound frequencies of harmonics reaching into the ultrasonic range.



  1. 1.0 1.1 shrille, adj.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 12 April 2018.
  2. ^ shil(le, adj.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 12 April 2018.
  3. 3.0 3.1 shrill, adj. and v.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.