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Perhaps derived from earlier contenkerous, from contentious + rancorous.


  • IPA(key): /kænˈtæŋkəɹəs/, /kənˈtæŋkəɹəs/
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cantankerous (comparative more cantankerous, superlative most cantankerous)

  1. Given to or marked by an ill-tempered, quarrelsome nature; ill-tempered, cranky, crabby.
    • 1839, “The youth of Julia Howard”, in Fraser's magazine for town and country, volume 20, page 618:
      "She is a cantankerous old maid," added another, whom I recognised, by his voice, as a man whose attentions I had put a determined check to not six weeks before: "she is a cantankerous old maid, fretting and snarling over the loss of her beauty."
    • 1998, Pauline Chazan, The moral self, page 80:
      By contrast, cantankerous and churlish people are contemptuously independent of others’ opinions, not caring enough about others and their views.
    • 2007, Linda Francis Lee, The Devil in the Junior League, page 44:
      Nina was thrilled, muttering her cantankerous joy that I was getting out of the house.
    • 2010, Clare Vanderpool, Moon Over Manifest, page 169:
      Unfortunately, as Great-Aunt Bert could be a bit cantankerous, they were having to be creative.

Usage notes[edit]

Note: cantankerous is generally used to describe an unpleasant elderly person in a slightly pejorative manner. However, the term can be used to people in general, livestock, and machinery as well.


Derived terms[edit]