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white noise, n.

Brit. Hear pronunciation/ˌwʌɪt ˈnɔɪz/
U.S. Hear pronunciation/ˌ(h)waɪt ˈnɔɪz/
Frequency (in current use):  Show frequency band information
Origin: Formed within English, by compounding. Etymons: white adj., noise n.
Etymology: < white adj. + noise n.
On the semantic motivation in sense 1   see white adj. 1e   and compare quot. 1943.

 1. Noise that has effectively equal energy intensities at all frequencies within a frequency range of interest, typically heard as a hissing sound; continuous, indistinct noise, esp. that which obscures other sounds.In white noise, energy intensities are equal throughout the frequency range (the frequency spectrum is flat) but they are not perceived as such, thus differing from grey noise and pink noise; cf. also red noise n. at red adj. and n. Compounds 1f(c)(i).

1943   Jrnl. Aeronaut. Sci. 10 129/1   Inside the plane it is different; there all frequencies added together at once are heard, producing a noise which is to sound what white light is to light... That white noise is annoying needs little argument.
1977   P. B. Medawar & J. S. Medawar Life Sci. i. 14   When the noise signals are so subdued, random and heterogeneous that their pretensions to conveying information are negligible, we may speak of ‘white noise’.
1980   P. Way Icarus ix. 57   Maybe they could listen in, even through the white noise of the running water.
1981   Brit. Med. Jrnl. 24 Jan. 295   Many patients find ambient noise helpful [in masking tinnitus]. At night this can be provided by the white noise of a radio tuned ‘off station’.
2007   Future Music Feb. 64/4   Some bitcrushers simply respond to audio by progressively adding grain and white noise to a signal.

1943—2007(Hide quotations)


 2. A continuously delivered mass of information, facts, etc., in which detail is obscured.

1976   Polish Perspectives July 25   In other words harping on truisms makes social sense? Exactly, and though we are all a bit fed up with this ‘white noise’ it does..contribute..to the transformation of consciousness.
1993   Harper's Mar. 35/1   Every conflict has them: empty tags like Basque terrorist or Druze militiamen, the white noise of foreign news.
2005   I. McEwan Saturday ii. 78   The drift, the white noise of solitary thought is driven by his emotional state.
2014   Times (Nexis) 23 Mar. (Style section)   Do you feel under pressure to look younger, better, wrinkle-free? Or is all of that just white noise, easily drowned out.

1976—2014(Hide quotations)


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    This entry has been updated (OED Third Edition, March 2015; most recently modified version published online March 2023).