Definition of cantankerous
: difficult or irritating to deal with a cantankerous mule
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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
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 and Etymology of cantankerous
perhaps irregular from obsolete contack contention
First Known Use: 1772
CANTANKEROUS Defined for English Language Learners
Definition of cantankerous for English Language Learners
: often angry and annoyed
CANTANKEROUS Defined for Kids
Seen and Heard
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