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

Definition of cantankerous 

: difficult or irritating to deal with a cantankerous mule

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Other Words from cantankerous

cantankerously adverb
cantankerousness noun

The Origin of Cantankerous Is Mysterious

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.

Examples of cantankerous in a Sentence

Contemporaries often found him aloof, standoffish, and cantankerous and his mannerisms and diction inscrutable. — Jonathan Spence, New York Review of Books, 22 Oct. 2009 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 … 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 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 a cantankerous old woman who insisted that nothing should ever be allowed to change
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Recent Examples on the Web

Barks McWoofins became a retired fake spokesperson that came back into service for National Consumer Protection Week but was really cantankerous about it. Rachel Becker, The Verge, "Why a government agency is spreading memes about dogs riding pigeons," 29 Oct. 2018 With other family members, Fred Trump could be cantankerous and cruel, according to sworn testimony by his relatives. Susanne Craig, The Seattle Times, "Trump engaged in suspect tax schemes as he reaped riches from father," 2 Oct. 2018 This cantankerous device profoundly changed American life. Casey Williams,, "Driving the Ford Model T through 110 years of American audacity," 3 July 2018 The leads all know how to endear, particularly Larry Marshall as cantankerous old Joe. Tony Adler, Chicago Reader, "In the world of Waitress, almost all sins can be forgiven with a song," 11 July 2018 The culprit here, besides Walker, is ... at risk of sounding like a cantankerous old man ... our social media culture of sharing everything. Daniel Rapaport,, "FORE Questions: More Rules Headaches, Predicting Ryder Cup Rosters and Grading Tiger's Comeback," 3 July 2018 The place is run by Nurse Jean Thomas (Jodie Foster), a cantankerous, no-nonsense type who patches up the lawless denizens of her makeshift facility—as long as their membership dues are paid in full. David Sims, The Atlantic, "Hotel Artemis Wastes Its Cult-Classic Potential," 8 June 2018 Expect revelations from the often-cagey Simon about drugs, strange artistic maneuvers like his play The Capeman and his cantankerous relationship with his old partner Art Garfunkel. Morgan Enos, Billboard, "Father's Day 2018: A Gift Guide for Classic Rock-Loving Dads," 7 June 2018 Despite that peculiar humility, Kim Yong Chol has a reputation for being cantankerous and snide. Charlie Campbell / Beijing, Time, "Who Is Kim Yong Chol? Meet Kim Jong Un's Ever-Present Right-Hand Man," 28 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'cantankerous.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of cantankerous

1772, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for cantankerous

perhaps irregular from obsolete contack contention

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Statistics for cantankerous

Last Updated

23 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for cantankerous

The first known use of cantankerous was in 1772

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More Definitions for cantankerous



English Language Learners Definition of cantankerous

: often angry and annoyed


can·​tan·​ker·​ous | \kan-ˈtaŋ-kə-rəs \

Kids Definition of cantankerous

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More from Merriam-Webster on cantankerous

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for cantankerous

Spanish Central: Translation of cantankerous

Nglish: Translation of cantankerous for Spanish Speakers

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