cantankerous

adjective

can·​tan·​ker·​ous kan-ˈtaŋ-k(ə-)rəs How to pronounce cantankerous (audio)
kən-
: difficult or irritating to deal with
a cantankerous mule
cantankerously adverb
cantankerousness noun

Did you know?

The Origin of Cantankerous Is Mysterious

Cantankerous people are cranky: they’re grumpy and angry and if we think charitably about them for a moment we might consider that they possibly suffer from a health affliction that sours the mood. It’s been speculated that cantankerous is a product of the Middle English contack, meaning “contention,” under the influence of a pair of words: rancorous and cankerous. Rancorous brings the anger and "bitter deep-seated ill will" (as rancor can be understood to mean). And cankerous brings the perhaps understandable foul mood: a cankerous person suffers from painful sores—that is, cankers.

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
Recent Examples on the Web Audiences got an early taste of the Texan’s cantankerous charms in 1976 when Coleman appeared as the feisty Fernwood, Ohio, mayor Merle Jeeter on Norman Lear‘s late-night soap-opera satire, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Mike Barnes, The Hollywood Reporter, 17 May 2024 The setting is a 1970 New England boarding school, where cantankerous teacher Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) is tasked with looking after students who have nowhere to go during the Christmas holiday break. Kevin Jacobsen, EW.com, 14 May 2024 The upside There were 290 extra employees working under Ramsay following this expansion, with the cantankerous chef spending an extra £6.1 million ($7.6 million) in staff costs. Ryan Hogg, Fortune Europe, 13 May 2024 And the electorate, even with the additional resources available to us, remains famously cantankerous and opinionated, each of us with a personal interpretation of what defines an immortal. Jim Alexander, Orange County Register, 23 Jan. 2024 There might be a great many creative epithets used to denigrate Asian people, as I was reminded about recently when watching the 2008 film Gran Torino, in which Clint Eastwood plays a cantankerous old man who owns a thesaurus full of them—but the directness of chink feels among the worst. Jeremy Gordon, The Atlantic, 26 Feb. 2024 Hoffman — doing his finest, cantankerous, Louis Litt best — and Judge Judy begin a series of improvisations. Jason Sheeler, Peoplemag, 11 Feb. 2024 Mencken, the most eloquent of the reactionaries, put their cantankerous thoughts into ornate, often quite funny prose. Franklin Foer, The Atlantic, 1 Mar. 2024 These cantankerous Brooklyn Jews made harangues seem like hugs. Jason Zinoman, New York Times, 29 Feb. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'cantankerous.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

perhaps irregular from obsolete contack contention

First Known Use

1772, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of cantankerous was in 1772

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Dictionary Entries Near cantankerous

Cite this Entry

“Cantankerous.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cantankerous. Accessed 21 May. 2024.

Kids Definition

cantankerous

adjective
can·​tan·​ker·​ous kan-ˈtaŋ-k(ə-)rəs How to pronounce cantankerous (audio)
kən-
: difficult or irritating to deal with
cantankerously adverb
cantankerousness noun

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