un·​couth ən-ˈküth How to pronounce uncouth (audio)
: awkward and uncultivated in appearance, manner, or behavior : rude
: lacking in polish and grace : rugged
uncouth verse
: strange or clumsy in shape or appearance : outlandish
archaic : not known or not familiar to one : seldom experienced : uncommon, rare
obsolete : mysterious, uncanny
uncouthly adverb
uncouthness noun

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History of Uncouth: From Unfamiliar to Outlandish

Uncouth comes from Old English cūth, meaning "familiar" or "known," prefixed by un-, giving the meaning "unfamiliar." How did a word that meant "unfamiliar" come to mean "outlandish," "rugged," or "rude"? Some examples from literature illustrate that the transition happened quite naturally. In Captain Singleton, Daniel Defoe refers to "a strange noise more uncouth than any they had ever heard." In William Shakespeare's As You Like It, Orlando tells Adam, "If this uncouth forest yield anything savage, I will either be food for it or bring it for food to thee." In Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod Crane fears "to look over his shoulder, lest he should behold some uncouth being tramping close behind him!" So, that which is unfamiliar is often perceived as strange, wild, or unpleasant. Meanings such as "outlandish," "rugged," or "rude" naturally follow.

Examples of uncouth in a Sentence

People thought he was uncouth and uncivilized. will not tolerate any uncouth behavior, such as eating with one's mouth open
Recent Examples on the Web It was first produced on Broadway in 1959, with Carol Burnett in the lead role as Princess Winifred, an unabashed and sometimes uncouth potential bride for the prince. Caitlin Huston, The Hollywood Reporter, 17 May 2024 There’s an incorrect notion that talking about money or promotions is uncouth. Byscott Galloway, Fortune, 23 Apr. 2024 People with perfect manners can be perfect villains, and the uncouth can have hearts of gold. Daniel Foster, National Review, 30 Nov. 2023 As with all dark prophecies, warnings about A.I. are unsettling, uncouth, and quite possibly wrong. Andrew Marantz, The New Yorker, 11 Mar. 2024 But most of the women shunned their former friend, viewing his actions as uncouth in an era when discretion was the byword of elite society. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian Magazine, 31 Jan. 2024 Could this uncouth stranger be the inspiration for her dapper character? Peter Debruge, Variety, 31 Jan. 2024 Rather than dampening their musicality, the ridiculous gags and uncouth humor adds another layer to the duo’s performances and humanizes their seemingly inhuman dexterity. Kieran Press-Reynolds, Pitchfork, 19 Jan. 2024 The Constitution doesn’t guarantee good presidents, but at their worst, none was as uncouth, arrogant, cruel and downright thuggish as Trump. Sun Sentinel Editorial Board, Sun Sentinel, 13 Jan. 2024

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

Word History


Middle English, from Old English uncūth, from un- + cūth familiar, known; akin to Old High German kund known, Old English can know — more at can entry 1

First Known Use

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

Time Traveler
The first known use of uncouth was before the 12th century


Dictionary Entries Near uncouth

Cite this Entry

“Uncouth.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/uncouth. Accessed 14 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


un·​couth ˌən-ˈküth How to pronounce uncouth (audio)
: strange, awkward, and clumsy in shape or appearance
: vulgar in conduct or speech : rude

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