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adjective can·tan·ker·ous \kan-ˈtaŋ-k(ə-)rəs, kən-\

Simple Definition of cantankerous

  • : often angry and annoyed

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of cantankerous

  1. :  difficult or irritating to deal with <a cantankerous mule>

cantankerously adverb
cantankerousness noun

Examples of cantankerous in a sentence

  1. Contemporaries often found him aloof, standoffish, and cantankerous and his mannerisms and diction inscrutable. —Jonathan Spence, New York Review of Books, 22 Oct. 2009

  2. There are those who contend the hockey maven is a cantankerous old coot—rife with unpopular opinions and quick to assert them —Rick Harrison, Newsday, 19 Sept. 2004

  3. … it's something ultimately more memorable: a self-portrait of a coolly cantankerous woman, reformed but unrepentant. —David Gates, New York Times Book Review, 21 Nov. 1999

  4. In his last years, Harriman was the kind of cantankerous old man who once berated a financial planner by threatening to make him sit in the corner and wear a dunce cap. —Bryan Burrough, Vanity Fair, January 1995

  5. <a cantankerous old woman who insisted that nothing should ever be allowed to change>

Did You Know?

It's irritating, but we're not absolutely sure where "cantankerous" comes from. Etymologists think it probably derived from the Middle English word contack (or "contek"), which meant "contention" or "strife." Their idea is that "cantankerous" may have started out as "contackerous" but was later modified as a result of association or confusion with "rancorous" (meaning "spiteful") and "cankerous" (which describes something that spreads corruption of the mind or spirit). Considering that a cantankerous person generally has the spite associated with "contack" and "rancor," and the noxious and sometimes painful effects of a "canker," that theory seems plausible. What we can say with conviction is that "cantankerous" has been used in English since at least the late 1700s.

Origin of cantankerous

perhaps irregular from obsolete contack contention

First Known Use: 1772

CANTANKEROUS Defined for Kids


adjective can·tan·ker·ous \kan-ˈtaŋ-kə-rəs\

Definition of cantankerous for Students

Seen and Heard

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tending to dismiss important matters

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