ornery

adjective
or·​nery | \ ˈȯr-nə-rē How to pronounce ornery (audio) , ˈär-; ˈȯrn-rē, ˈärn-, ˈȯn-, ˈän-\
ornerier; orneriest

Definition of ornery

1a : having an irritable disposition : cantankerous an ornery old man Telling her that would have been an invitation to getting my head chopped off, because she was a mean, ornery number until the day she died.— John Gregory Dunne
b : difficult to deal with or control an ornery mule … once made word processors so ornery that they caused secretaries to collapse in tears …— Bro Uttal … a bout with walking pneumonia and an ornery case of poison oak.— Paul Francis
2 chiefly Midwest : having or showing a playful tendency to cause trouble : mischievous an ornery smile It had been fun to play a trick on those ornery boys. They were not bad boys: just wild things full of vim and vinegar who were trying to fill their time and show off.— Connie Leonard Geron … invited me to come take pictures at a little family tradition they have … A shaving cream war. They have a large family; so there were tons of kids of all ages there. I think what I loved most about this was the fact that the adults got just as ornery as the kids.— Rebecca Haines

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Other Words from ornery

orneriness noun

What's the History of ornery?

Readers who are familiar with one of the more common senses of ornery ("irritable") might well be surprised to learn that the word is an alteration of the word ordinary, as this root word has little to do with feelings of peevishness. Yet this is the case, and there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for how this meaning came about.

Ornery was first used in American regional speech in the beginning of the 19th century as a simple variant of ordinary, and for some while it had the same meaning. Soon enough, however, it began to take on some of the more negative aspects of ordinary. It was used to describe things that were common, and especially common things of inferior quality. Next, it developed a sense synonymous with lazy. Those lazy folks dubbed "ornery" were also apparently easily annoyed and touchy. By the end of the 19th century ornery had taken on its now-common meaning of "cantankerous."

Examples of ornery in a Sentence

Based on the best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand, Seabiscuit tells the true story of an ornery, undersize, beaten-up Thoroughbred who becomes a champion in the 1930s. — Lev Grossman, Time, 21 July 2003 Critics have compared his work to Faulkner's. And like Faulkner, McCarthy is an acquired taste as well as a palate cleanser. He's a stubborn, ornery writer, known for his ornate sentences, arcane vocabulary, casual disregard for standard punctuation and untranslated bits of foreign dialogue that offer little in the way of a narrative compass to guide readers along. — Sara Mosle, New York Times Book Review, 17 May 1998 I'm getting more and more ornery in my old age. an ornery old man who always yells at the neighborhood kids to keep off his lawn
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Recent Examples on the Web

And lucky for Arthur, Mera feels the same way, giving up her highborn birthright to marry ornery Orm, and choosing instead to travel with Arthur to the Sahara Desert and Sicily to find clues regarding the whereabouts of the super trident. Alex Abad-santos, Vox, "Aquaman goes for broke and lands somewhere between overstuffed marine opera and cheesy comic book fun," 11 Dec. 2018 And yet there’s something admirably ornery about Weinzweig’s refusal to deliver a straightforward novel of empowerment, a narrative of liberation, a role model — as if insisting on a flawed heroine is itself an act of resistance. New York Times, "Her Lover May Not Exist, but Her Doubts About the Patriarchy Are Real," 6 July 2018 The source material is not unlike that which fuels the James Bond movie franchise: a stack of lively books by an ornery British author concerning an iconic British character who neither grows old nor dies. Annie Leibovitz, Vogue, "How Do You Reinvent Mary Poppins for 2018? Emily Blunt Has a Few Ideas," 8 Nov. 2018 In 2002, War Emblem nearly fell to his knees when the starting gate sprang open, and Baffert knew the ornery colt was done. Beth Harris, Houston Chronicle, "Justify ready for run at Triple Crown history in Belmont," 9 June 2018 This former Indian trading post on stilts overlooking Chokoluskee Bay served a small community of hardy and often ornery individualists. Bonnie Gross And Bob Rountree, OrlandoSentinel.com, "Explore Florida's Collier County: Ten Thousand Islands, the easy way," 6 May 2018 The largest grizzly, too powerful and ornery to be given even the limited freedom of a chain, was confined in an iron cage. Gary Kamiya, SFChronicle.com, "The original Grizzly Adams kept his bears on a chain in SF," 7 July 2018 As much as golfers want to think of it as their recreation opportunity, like going to the beach, golf is an ornery business. Tod Leonard, sandiegouniontribune.com, "Golf course closures say less about sport, more about a difficult business," 3 July 2018 DeWitt was the subject of a memorable 2016 profile in New York magazine, which told the tale of an ornery prodigy afflicted by unusually bad luck, and by her own inability to conform to the customs of commercial publishing. Adam Kirsch, The Atlantic, "The Anguished Comedy of Helen DeWitt," 25 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'ornery.' 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 ornery

1816, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for ornery

alteration of ordinary

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More Definitions for ornery

ornery

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of ornery

US, informal + often humorous
: easily annoyed or angered
: difficult to deal with or control

ornery

adjective
or·​nery | \ ˈȯr-nə-rē How to pronounce ornery (audio) \
ornerier; orneriest

Kids Definition of ornery

: becoming angry or annoyed easily

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More from Merriam-Webster on ornery

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for ornery

Spanish Central: Translation of ornery

Nglish: Translation of ornery for Spanish Speakers

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