: difficult or irritating to deal with
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 1730s.
"[Kenneth] Lonergan's brow was furrowed, and he was speaking, as he often does, in a low, growling mumble.… Among his theatre and movie-industry peers, he is famous for being famously cantankerous." — Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker, 7 Nov. 2016
"Far from being cantankerous, she says [Roald] Dahl was endlessly ingenious in his desire to amuse, even when mortally ill, and only grumpy when finishing a book." — Elizabeth Gricehow, The Daily Telegraph (London), 12 Nov. 2016
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