Simple Definition of surly
: rude and unfriendly
Examples of surly in a sentence
<went about his chores in a surly huff, totally annoyed that he was stuck at home on this beautiful Saturday>
<the surly receptionist told us we'd have to wait outside in the rain>
Did You Know?
In its very earliest uses in the 16th century, surly meant "majestic" or "lordly." These early meanings make sense when you know that this word is an alteration of Middle English "serreli," which probably comes from "sire, ser," a title formerly used as a form of address for men of rank or authority. So how did a word with such lofty beginnings come to be associated with grumbling rudeness? Arrogant and domineering behavior is sometimes associated with men of rank or position, and "surly" came to mean "haughty" or "imperious." These meanings (which are now obsolete) led to the "rude" sense that is very common today.
Origin of surly
alteration of Middle English serreli lordly, imperious, probably from sire, ser sire
First Known Use: 1523
Synonym Discussion of surly
SURLY Defined for Kids
History for surly
To a noble person it might seem natural to link together high birth and good manners, but the word surly is evidence that other people have not always thought this way. In Middle English the word was spelled sirly, which made more obvious its derivation from sir, the traditional title of respect. Sirly had much the same meaning as lordly does today, that is, “proud, haughty.” Although its meaning has evolved to “rude” or “unfriendly,” surly still refers to a way of acting that is quite the opposite of good-mannered.
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