Nails on blackboard? It's music compared with the sound of a workmate chomping.

Last month, magazine told its readers what the 10 most annoying sounds in the world were, as rated by the latest scientific research.

We all have favourite contenders - more on that later - but some of the "official" answers were no surprise.

Neuroscientists ranked the irritating sounds by taking a group of people, sticking them one by one in an MRI machine, subjecting them to more than 70 sounds, then ranking them according to how subjects reacted.

Confirmed in their legendary awfulness were fingernails on a blackboard (5th), which even deaf people apparently find unbearable; a female scream (6th), and every dad's favourite, the angle grinder (7th).


First, oddly, was a knife on a bottle, followed by a fork on glass - findings that should send sensitive wedding MCs scrambling for new methods to quieten rooms full of chemically inconvenienced guests. Chalk on a blackboard came in at number three, then a ruler on a bottle (huh?) at four. Squealing bike brakes, a crying baby, and an electric drill rounded out the top 10.

I found this list fascinating, as it didn't include my absolute bete noire: the sound of people eating and drinking. I want to gag every time someone chomps on apples, nuts or carrots in my vicinity. Slurping drinks is disgusting, and chewing gum with an open mouth like a cow processing her cud makes me homicidal.

I vividly recall the two occasions in my life when I've wanted to do people physical harm, and in both cases loud eating was the cause. In one I was seated in front of someone noisily chewing gum all through a university exam. The other, which lasted a year, involved living with a Japanese family as an exchange student. Lovely family, culture, food - in fact, everything about Japan was fascinating - but I could never get to grips with the way people chomped raucously as they ate.

The worst offender was the grandmother who, at the ripe old age of 95, let her dentures do the talking through every meal. She smacked her chops through each bowl of rice and piece of fish, as I dreamed of taking her out with one of the heavy ornaments from the family shrine.

The reason food still irks me so much is that it seems to have become de rigueur to chow through multiple small courses as you sit at your work desk.

I blame women. Especially Jennifer Lopez, who popularised the idea one should "graze" on six small meals a day, to keep the metabolism up and the appetite down.

This is fine (if annoying) if you do your grazing on carrots and cucumber.

However, many people seem to think it's an excuse to down six full meals, so never lose weight (leading to more noise about not losing the pork, and not looking like Jennifer Lopez).

I accept I'm a curmudgeon about this; I'm in the minority of people who feel that eating an apple in an open-plan office, as other people are making cold calls or conducting interviews, is the height of bad manners.

Let's just agree that buzzing mosquitoes and talkback hosts are things that set everyone's teeth on edge, even if they didn't make the list.

* Illustration by Anna Crichton:
What noises annoy you?