adjective can·tan·ker·ous \ kan-ˈtaŋ-k(ə-)rəs , kən- \
|Updated on: 20 Jul 2018

Definition of cantankerous

: difficult or irritating to deal with
  • a cantankerous mule





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Examples of cantankerous in a Sentence

  1. Contemporaries often found him aloof, standoffish, and cantankerous and his mannerisms and diction inscrutable. —Jonathan SpenceNew York Review of Books22 Oct. 2009
  2. There are those who contend the hockey maven is a cantankerous old coot—rife with unpopular opinions and quick to assert them —Rick HarrisonNewsday19 Sept. 2004
  3. … it's something ultimately more memorable: a self-portrait of a coolly cantankerous woman, reformed but unrepentant. —David GatesNew York Times Book Review21 Nov. 1999
  4. 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 BurroughVanity FairJanuary 1995
  5. a cantankerous old woman who insisted that nothing should ever be allowed to change

Recent Examples of cantankerous from the Web

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.

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.

Origin and Etymology of cantankerous

perhaps irregular from obsolete contack contention

CANTANKEROUS Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of cantankerous for English Language Learners

  • : often angry and annoyed

CANTANKEROUS Defined for Kids


adjective can·tan·ker·ous \ kan-ˈtaŋ-kə-rəs \

Definition of cantankerous for Students

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one who attends or assists a leader

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