Word History

Our Verdict on 'Judgy'

Go ahead and use it—we won't judge.


Everyone has an opinion. We are, after all, a society that seeks constant approval by way of likes and comments on social media. Knowing that, it's hard not to return the favor and be judgy.

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Even through the blindfold, she could feel the judgy stares.

Judgy is an adjective that is on the rise, itself the shortened form of another adjective, judgmental. Judgmental¸ dating from the first half of the 19th century can mean "of, relating to, or involving judgment" (as in "a judgmental error") or "characterized by a tendency to judge harshly" (as in "judgmental classmates").

It is the second of these meanings, with its connotation of disapproval, that informs the recent use of judgy:

With the state's mandated water-use reductions taking effect on Monday, our lawns have become jungles of worry. Keep them green and face scary water bills and judgy neighbors.
Karla Peterson, San Diego Union-Tribune, 29 May 2015

When people ask if you’re supposed to be Britney from the VMAs, give them a judgy look and correct them.
Kristie Rohwedder, Bustle, 10 Oct. 2014

But my health was important to me, and I wanted to do something good for my body, so I decided to give running a try. No judgy eyes watching me, and I could do it whenever I wanted.
Andrea Stanley, Shape, 5 July 2017

Evidence suggests that this use of judgy had a life in spoken English before starting to gain traction in the aughts. In a 2004 theater review in Newsday by Gordon Cox, the actress Kathy Najimy is praised for her use of the word as authentic to her character, described as "an outer-borough teenager."

Use of the word in print soon followed:

I can't get all judgy on you, because your motive is so clearly innocent. You want to protect your kid, and who can blame a mom for that?
Robin Abrahams, Boston Globe, 2 Oct. 2005

The "Stand" campaign targets teen smokers. That would be great if it and other anti-smoking groups didn't badger the rest of us with their annoying, judgy and insensitive message of despair.
Amelia Robinson, Dayton Daily News, 19 Apr. 2006

In the 20th century, sporadic use of judgy demonstrated a different meaning, describing one with the characteristics of a courtroom judge. One person to use it in this way was someone who knew a thing or two about presiding over a court:

"It keeps you humble to bear it in mind … And as Dottie says, it keeps you from getting to be too judgy."
Harry Blackmun, quoted in New York Times, 25 July 1988

The connotation here, of course, is much different from the current use of judgy. Judges are known for even temperament, vast knowledge of the law and its complexities, and of course, their air of authority. But examples of the adjective also carry a bit of disparagement, associating an intellectual demeanor with stuffiness:

Married to Ethel Ford Hillyer (two children), he was kept, he admits, from being stodgy by his wife's constant reminder, "Don't be judgy." But, he also admits, he liked to reply to her, "Don't be Mrs. Judgy."
Celebrity Register, 1963

Mr. Starr, who has been called many things but never "street smart," would ask colleagues if he came across in his public appearances as too pedantic and even friends regarded him as something of a workaholic egghead with a "judgy" personality.
Michael Winerip, New York Times, 13 Sept. 1998

The use of –y as an adjective suffix to indicate characteristics associated with their stems goes back to similar use of the suffix –ig in Old English. We might say then that judgy is not the most creative coinage. Frankly, we think someone who wanted to stand out would come up with something more original than judgy. But I guess we shouldn't judge.



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