November 29th, 2020

words 6
  • sallymn

Sunday Word: Cantankerous

cantankerous [kan-tang-ker-uhs]

1 difficult or irritating to deal with; contentious; peevish
2 askew; out of kilter


One time, while feeding geese at Liberty Park, a cantankerous goose tried to attack me. (Brodi Ashton, Drawing inspiration (and fear) from the birds (and Alfred Hitchcock), The Salt Lake Tribune, November 2020)

Which was the more remarkable, because he was known as a savage, cantankerous old cuss who never liked anybody. (Jack London, John Barleycorn)


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 late 1700s. (Merriam-Webster)