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

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 1730s.

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
Recent Examples on the Web Not surprisingly, given his cantankerous nature, Bulger turned out to be a pain in the neck for US Bureau of Prison officials, who moved him from Arizona to Florida. Kevin Cullen,, 19 May 2022 But the low pay, mixed with cantankerous administrators and demanding parents who frequently emailed her with suggestions on how to improve her teaching, had created an impossible dynamic. Stephen Noonoo, The New Republic, 2 May 2022 One man, a cantankerous 65-year-old miner named Misha, was eating a can of what appeared to be minced meat. Nabih Bulosstaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, 21 Apr. 2022 The sketch quickly became an opportunity to let McKinnon shine as the cantankerous interjector whose forceful opinions shift the home design into an absurdist nightmare. Amanda Wicks, The Atlantic, 10 Apr. 2022 Say something that moves her up the ranks but clearly puts her in more direct contact with a cantankerous colleague. Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press, 7 Apr. 2022 For four years, cantankerous Abby Binder has managed to keep a room all to herself there, so when bubbly, unbearably cheerful Marilyn Dunn is placed in her room, Abby tries but fails to scare away her roommate. Luann Gibbs, The Enquirer, 9 Mar. 2022 In the working-class London home of cantankerous old Max, his brother Sam, and Max’s two sons, Lenny and Joey, the toxic masculinity is suffocating. David L. Coddon, San Diego Union-Tribune, 6 Mar. 2022 VarietyThe Week Brian Cox could have been playing a cantankerous leader on HBO a few years earlier. Brendan Morrow, The Week, 14 Jan. 2022 See More

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.

First Known Use of cantankerous

1772, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for cantankerous

perhaps irregular from obsolete contack contention

Learn More About cantankerous

Time Traveler for cantankerous

Time Traveler

The first known use of cantankerous was in 1772

See more words from the same year

Dictionary Entries Near cantankerous




See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for cantankerous

Last Updated

31 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Cantankerous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Jun. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More Definitions for cantankerous


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

Kids Definition of cantankerous

More from Merriam-Webster on cantankerous

Nglish: Translation of cantankerous for Spanish Speakers


Test Your Vocabulary

Words Named After People

  • name tags
  • Namesake of the leotard, Jules Léotard had what profession?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!