We report the terms used by 223 pulmonary physicians and 54 physicians in other specialties to describe eight recorded examples of lung sounds. The participants listened to the lung sounds at the 1988 American College of Chest Physicians annual convention and wrote "free form" answers. Pulmonary physicians used the terms "crackles" and "rales" with equal frequency to describe discontinuous adventitious lung sounds (ALS) and not at all to describe continuous ALS. Other physicians preferred the term "rales" in describing discontinuous ALS. The terms "wheeze" and "stridor" were used only in describing continuous ALS; however, the term "rhonchi" was frequently used to describe continuous and discontinuous ALS. The majority of participants recognized the normal breath sounds but not the pleural friction rub. Most did not use a qualifying adjective to describe ALS, and there was little agreement among those who did. The lung sound terminology used by physicians is not well standardized and the recommendations of the ATS/ACCP nomenclature subcommittee are not widely accepted.