can·​tan·​ker·​ous | \ kan-ˈtaŋ-k(ə-)rəs How to pronounce cantankerous (audio) , 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 Our most unusual sighting is a toadfish, a cantankerous-looking creature almost completely camouflaged in a rusty pocket of the wreck. Washington Post, "Off the North Carolina shore, a deep dive into history," 18 Sep. 2020 The loudest and most cantankerous voices on the internet have been for some time now cavalierly and cathartically whipping up powerful feelings of enmity, contempt, and moral superiority in rituals of public shaming that bond us. Thomas Chatterton Williams, Harper's Magazine, "A Game of Chance," 15 Sep. 2020 On Thursday, Duling compared himself to Harry R. Truman, the cantankerous 83-year-old who refused to leave Mount St. Helens in the days before its 1980 eruption – and died in the blast. oregonlive, "Clackamas County wildfire grows to 130,000 acres, moves within half mile of Estacada; weather improves," 11 Sep. 2020 Resistance begins with uninspiring libertarian boilerplate; its opening passages are cantankerous and suspect in their invocation of individual moral agency. R.h. Lossin, The New York Review of Books, "The Revolutionary Thoreau," 4 Sep. 2020 But Fine wasn’t able to keep up with his medications, diet or personal hygiene, Williams said, and could be cantankerous as a result. Keith Spera,, "In need of a home, jazz trumpeter Jack Fine, 91, finds one with fellow trumpeter James Williams," 13 Aug. 2020 Chapman, somewhat cantankerous Thursday, also took a little shot at the A’s attendance issues. Susan Slusser,, "Matt Chapman questions A’s late start to camp, wishes team had been ‘more proactive’," 9 July 2020 Enter Shawn and Gus, who, as usual, roil the cantankerous Lassiter with their hi-jinks. Jeanne Jakle,, "San Antonio actor James Roday returning with new ‘Psych’ movie on NBC’s streaming service Peacock," 8 July 2020 The double-barrel big bores evolved from double-barrel muzzleloading shotguns first used to slow down large and cantankerous animals. Ron Spomer, Outdoor Life, "The Most Iconic Rifles and Cartridges from African Safaris," 11 June 2020

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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Time Traveler for cantankerous

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The first known use of cantankerous was in 1772

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Last Updated

27 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Cantankerous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for cantankerous


How to pronounce cantankerous (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of cantankerous

: often angry and annoyed


can·​tan·​ker·​ous | \ kan-ˈtaŋ-kə-rəs How to pronounce cantankerous (audio) \

Kids Definition of cantankerous

More from Merriam-Webster on cantankerous

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for cantankerous

Nglish: Translation of cantankerous for Spanish Speakers

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