Printable Version
Pronunciation: kæn-tæng-kêr-ês Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Quarrelsome, ill-tempered, crotchety, ornery, hard to put up with. 2. Difficult to handle or control, as a cantankerous old computer.

Notes: A verb cantanker has recently been extracted from this adjective, so now we can say that cantankerous is the adjective of the verb cantanker in the sense of "to be cantankerous". The adverb is cantankerously, and the noun is simply cantankerousness, but why not the more cantankerous cantankerosity, in the spirit of generosity? The verb cantanker also provides a newer adjective, cantankersome, and left the door wide open for a personal noun, cantankerer.

In Play: Despite the large family that has emerged around this silly word, it is still felt to be too slangy for formal English. It is perfectly acceptable in conversation, though: "Noam Knott is so cantankerous that he complains when the kids are too quiet in the house." Things that sometimes work and sometimes don't are also said to have this quality: "Festus bought a cantankerous old pickup that never wants to start during hunting season!"

Word History: Cantankerous is cantankerous itself in that it refuses to surrender its origin or any clues about it. It is probably a tangle of bits and pieces from contentious, rancorous, and cankerous. As mentioned before, English speakers in the US take a dim view of '50-cent' words, as Will Rogers called them, especially if they are Latinate. We often make up funny Latinate words just to ridicule their likes.

Dr. Goodword,

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