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adjective, or·nery \ˈȯr-nə-rē, ˈär-; ˈȯrn-rē, ˈärn-\

Simple Definition of ornery

  • : easily annoyed or angered

  • : difficult to deal with or control

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of ornery


  1. :  having an irritable disposition :  cantankerous

orneriness noun

Examples of ornery in a sentence

  1. Based on the best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand, Seabiscuit tells the true story of an ornery, undersize, beaten-up Thoroughbred who becomes a champion in the 1930s. —Lev Grossman, Time, 21 July 2003

  2. Critics have compared his work to Faulkner's. And like Faulkner, McCarthy is an acquired taste as well as a palate cleanser. He's a stubborn, ornery writer, known for his ornate sentences, arcane vocabulary, casual disregard for standard punctuation and untranslated bits of foreign dialogue that offer little in the way of a narrative compass to guide readers along. —Sara Mosle, New York Times Book Review, 17 May 1998

  3. Telling her that would have been an invitation to getting my head chopped off, because she was a mean, ornery number until the day she died. —John Gregory Dunne, Harp, 1989

  4. I'm getting more and more ornery in my old age.

  5. <an ornery old man who always yells at the neighborhood kids to keep off his lawn>

What's the History of ornery?

Readers who are familiar with one of the more common senses of ornery ("irritable") might well be surprised to learn that the word is an alteration of the word ordinary, as this root word has little to do with feelings of peevishness. Yet this is the case, and there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for how this meaning came about.

Ornery was first used in American regional speech in the beginning of the 19th century as a simple variant of ordinary, and for some while it had the same meaning. Soon enough, however, it began to take on some of the more negative aspects of ordinary. It was used to describe things that were common, and especially common things of inferior quality. Next, it developed a sense synonymous with lazy. Those lazy folks dubbed "ornery" were also apparently easily annoyed and touchy. By the end of the 19th century ornery had taken on its now-common meaning of "cantankerous."

Origin of ornery

alteration of ordinary

First Known Use: 1816

ORNERY Defined for Kids


adjective or·nery \ˈȯr-nə-rē\

Definition of ornery for Students


  1. :  becoming angry or annoyed easily

Seen and Heard

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to expose to danger or risk

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