Printable Version
Pronunciation: shreek Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: To scream as loud as possible in a shrill, high-pitched voice.

Notes: This word may be used as a noun meaning "a high-pitched scream". Shriek is accompanied by the usual cast of relatives: someone who shrieks a lot may be called a shrieker, who is by definition shrieky (the adjective). The last derivation sets up an adverb, shriekily, and an abstract noun, shriekiness. Remember the order of the I and the E.

In Play: A shriek is a high-pitched sound humans usually make out of fear or extreme delight: "For a month Ivan Oder's two-year-old granddaughter shrieked every time she saw him." However, humans are not the only thing that makes this sound: "Every time he started the car the engine shrieked, so he knew it was time to replace the fan belt."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from a Proto-Germanic form that also produced screech and screak. The results of the same root appear in most Germanic languages, like Swedish skrika and kväka "to croak". Screech has a close relative in archaic screak ([skreek). If the R in this word were pronounced the way most children pronounce [r] (as [w], so that rabbit comes out wabbit), this would explain the origin of squeak ([skweek]). Most dictionaries attribute the origin of today's word to onomatopoeia, i. e. sound imitation. However, this does not explain the initial [sh] sound; it much better explains the interjection eek!, which is usually shrieked. There must have been at least a Proto-Germanic word s(h)rik-, though no one has been able to trace it back farther than Proto-Germanic. (Lest we educe a shriek of despair from Joakim Larsson, let's all thank him for recommending today's mysterious Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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