Words at Play

19 Words for the Cranky and Disagreeable

We're not mad. You're mad.
10 Nov 2022

cranky disagreeable words disputatious

Definition - inclined to dispute

Disputatious may refer to your friend’s tendency to disagree with every plan you make, but can also take the meaning “marked by disputation (verbal controversy)” or “provoking debate.” Disputatious (and dispute) comes from the Latin disputare, which simply means “to discuss.”

Must have been something rank to have caused Clancy and Johnny to get into a dispute with his umps. They’re not of the disputatious sort.
Winston-Salem Journal (Winston-Salem, NC), 20 Jun. 1911

cranky disagreeable words cantankerous

Definition - difficult or irritating to deal with

Cantankerous may sound like one of the many fine 19th-century Americanisms (such as snollygoster, hornswoggle and jimberjawed, but it is not. We’re not sure of the origins of cantankerous, but we do know that it has been in use since at least the 18th century, and early evidence suggests that it was in use in the United Kingdom prior to America.

The farmers were gathered together with the small shopkeepers at a public meeting, and every farmer in the parish, except one little cantankerous fellow—for such there always would be—agreed to pay their labourers upon the Friday evening. (Cheers.)
Proceedings of the public meeting on behalf of the shopkeepers’ assistants, 1841

cranky disagreeable words agonistic

Definition - argumentative

Agonistic may be traced back to the Greek word agōnistḗs, meaning ”one engaged in a contest or struggle.” This origin may be seen in the earliest English sense of the word, which is “of or relating to the athletic contests of ancient Greece.” Along the way the word has taken on additional meanings, including the aforementioned “argumentative,” “striving for effect,” and “of, relating to, or being aggressive or defensive social interaction (such as fighting, fleeing, or submitting) between individuals usually of the same species.”

Wherefore, to render our Discourse the lesse offensive, we have cast it into a thetic and dogmatic Method, rather than  agonistic and polemic.
— Theophilus Gale, The court of the gentiles, 1678 

cranky disagreeable words captious

Definition - marked by an often ill-natured inclination to stress faults and raise objections

Captious shares a root with accept, forceps, and nuncupate; all may be traced in part to the Latin word capere (“to take”). Capere gave rise to captio, which Latin means “deception” or “verbal quibble,” which makes sense when considering that one of the other meanings of captious is “calculated to confuse, entrap, or entangle in argument.”

 But you, captious Lawyers, you are so precise, so curious in the quercks and quidities of law, & to follow the formalitie of it, in stead of interpreting the true sense, that forsooth according to the form of proceeding, she should be called to iudgment within the countie of Staffordshire, there to appeare holding vp her hand at the Barre, to stand to the verdict of twelue men, vpon her fact.
— William Camden, Annales the true and royall history of the famous empresse Elizabeth Queene of England France and Ireland, 1625 

cranky disagreeable words eristic

Definition - characterized by disputatious and often subtle and specious reasoning

In addition to serving as an adjective for the rhetorical method employed by your least-favorite uncle at Thanksgiving, eristic is also a noun, meaning either “a person devoted to logical disputation” or “the art or practice of disputation and polemics.” The word came into English in the early 17th century, and is from the Greek eristikos, “fond of wrangling.”

And here and euery where throughout this Eristic Libell of yours, doe what you can to stirre vp the one against the other, and set them by the eares together: for what language is this of yours?
— William Cowper, The Bishop of Galloway, 1616

cranky disagreeable words peevish

Definition - marked by ill temper

Peevish comes from the slightly shorter Middle English word pevish (“spiteful”). Its first meaning, beginning in the 15th century, was “querulous in temperament or mood” (querulous meaning “habitually complaining”). In addition to this and the “ill-tempered” sense, peevish can also mean “perversely obstinate.”

Mr. Thomas Sheridan supported the character of a Peevish Old Man, afflicted with the gout.
The Morning Post (London, Eng.), 6 Jul. 1805

cranky disagreeable words choplogic

Definition -  given to complex often erroneous and absurd argumentation

Choplogic may look like it comes from describing someone who likes to cut or sever (common meanings of chop) your logic, but the initial portion of the word comes from an obsolete meaning of chop, which is “to exchange, trade” (this comes from the Middle English choppen, “to barter”). Choplogic may also refer to “involved and often specious argumentation” or “an absurdly argumentative person.”

But that’s a way that miserable Jones has. A sort of chop logic talk that I hate.
Fun (London, Eng.), 31 Oct. 1888

cranky disagreeable words contradictious

Definition -  inclined to contradict or cavil

Contradictious is a useful word for those occasions when you want to accuse someone of being contradictory or contrary, but you don’t want them to know what you mean. We are not at all certain when such an occasion might occur, but when it does we would like you to be prepared for it.

How lovingly dost thou stretch them out to an incredulous and contradictious people, and none do take any compassion vppon thee?
— C.N., Our Ladie hath a new sonne, 1595

cranky disagreeable words hangry

Definition - irritable or angry because of hunger

Of all words on this list which are roughly synonymous in some way with “disagreeable,” hangry is probably the newest. It is not, however, the brainchild of some language-averse millennials; hangry has been in use for well over 60 years now.

More complicated samples: slabor for slave labor , meduction for medical education, nissen for nicht wissen, hangry for hungry and angry, crimax for crime and climax, criumph for crime triumphing; some of these are quite admirable.
American Imago; a Psychoanalytic Journal for the Arts and Sciences (Detroit, MI), Winter 1956

cranky disagreeable words stomachful

Definition - resentful, angry

The stomach contains not only food and whatever other half-chewed things you’ve swallowed; it contains contradictions as well. For while we say that someone is stomachful is they are resentful or angry, we also use the word stomach as a verb to mean “to bear without overt reaction or resentment.” But the verb can also mean “to take offense at,” and stomachful can also mean “obstinate,” or “courageous.” As recompense for giving you such a confusing word, here’s something that is not confusing about stomach: it comes from the Greek word stoma, meaning “mouth” … well, that’s maybe a little bit confusing.

Indeede, if wee liue in presumptuous sinnes, and bee proud and  stomackfull, and will not stoupe vnder Gods hand, then Gods greatest kindnesse is to scourge vs, vntill hee bring vs home to himselfe.
— John Dod, Two Sermons, 1608

cranky disagreeable words fumish

Definition - tending to fume, choleric

The earliest uses of fume in English tend to be related to the word’s origins; it comes from the Latin fumus, meaning “smoke.” By the early 16th century, however, fume was being used as a figurative verb, with the meaning of “to be in a state of excited irritation or anger.” At the same time we began to use fumish to mean both “smoky” (actual smoke) and “tending to fume” (in a figurative manner).

To blame therefore are those dogs, which make no bones in tearing Gods name, who cast vp their children to God, as though he were their vnderling, as an angry and  fumish master giues his seruant a buffet with his fist.
— Peter Barker, A judicious and painefull exposition vpon the ten Commandements, 1624

cranky disagreeable words choleric

Definition - easily moved to often unreasonable or excessive anger : hot-tempered

Long ago there was a belief that human health and temperament were governed by a proper balance between the four humors contained in one’s body. These mysterious substances were identified as phlegm, black bile, yellow bile, and blood. Although the belief in the effects of humors has largely faded, each of these liquids has given rise to words associated with them, such as phlegmatic, bilious, and sanguine. Choler was another term for yellow bile, and has given us choleric.

…a lover builds his hopes on a maiden, and some more fortunate swain cuts him out,—a passenger embarks on a boat with the promise of going immediately, and don’t get off for two days—or when some choleric little man undertakes to whip another, and gets thrashed himself.
The Vermont Patriot (Montpelier, VT), 6 Aug. 1846

cranky disagreeable words

Definition - readily angered when opposed

When cranky loses its final Y, and is applied to a person it may mean either “an annoyingly eccentric person” or “a bad-tempered person.” Both of these senses made the transition to adjectivehood, as cranky may mean both “crochety” and “marked by eccentricity.” Cranky may also mean “full of twists and turns,” “working erratically,” or “silly,” but most of the time we use it to refer to our grumpy downstairs neighbor.

”What the dickens has his cranky mood got to do with me,” said the special, “I wanted to see the captain.”
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, NY), 14 Aug. 1877

cranky disagreeable words splenetic

Definition - marked by bad temper, malevolence, or spite

Splenetic comes from the Late Latin word spleneticus, which sounds like the name of Spartacus’s grumpy younger brother, and itself comes from the Latin splen, meaning “spleen.” Similar to choleric, splenetic has roots in the theory of bodily humors, as the spleen was thought to secrete the black bile that was one of these four substances. This organ supposedly governed such feelings as melancholy (“given to melancholy” is an obsolete meaning of splenetic) and irascibility.

I was never so splenetique, when I was most dumpish, but I could smile at a friseiest, when the good man would be pleasurable; and laugh at fustion earnest, when the merry man would be surly.
— Gabriel Harvey, A new prayse of the old asse, 1593

cranky disagreeable words shirty

Definition - angry, irritated

We qualify shirty as “chiefly British,” which means that you can use it outside of the United Kingdom, but it will probably sound like you’re trying to pass yourself off as someone who spent a semester or two in London. The word is thought to have come from shirt, a word which has itself to a wide variety of idioms, including keep your shirt on, and lose one’s shirt.

 The tone of his attack was a mistake. He may think it was robust. To me it sounded shirty.
— Malachi O’Doherty, Belfast Telegraph, 10 Dec. 2001

cranky disagreeable words narky

Definition - (British) marked by ill temper and irritability

If a single truculent and distinctively British adjective for irritability is not enough to make you feel at ease in the world, fear not, for the British variety of English has more than one short way of describing having a bad temper. In addition to shirty we have narky. This word comes from the verb nark, meaning “to irritate or annoy.” The annoying nark is of unknown etymology.

The excuse defendant gave for his conduct was that complainant had been “narky on him.”
Birmingham Daily Post (Birmingham, Eng.), 19 Apr. 1895

cranky disagreeable words irascible

Definition - marked by hot temper and easily provoked anger

Irascible appears to have the same negative prefix as is found attached to many other words which initially began with an R, such as irreducible, irredeemable, and irrespective. However, the initial portion of irascible is not a negative prefix, but instead shows its roots in the Latin word for “anger,” which is ira.

 She therefore contented herself with being more than usually peevish and irascible to her servants and children; and talking to her friends of the prodigious sacrifice she was about to make for her brother and his family, as if it had been the cutting off of a hand, or the plucking out of an eye.
— Susan Ferrier, Marriage, 1818

cranky disagreeable words surly

Definition -  irritably sullen and churlish in mood or manner 

Many of the words on this list began their lives with a meaning that had little to do with grouchiness, but few of them have changed quite as much as surly. Among this word’s earliest uses, in the 16th century, were “lordly” and “majestic.” These senses came from the Middle English serreli  (“lordly, imperious”). Along the way surly also came to mean “arrogant, imperious,” and following this took on the sense of “churlish” in which it is commonly employed today.

Don’t mix your liquor, boys,
But always take it neat;
He’s a surly, churlish fellow,
Who wouldn’t stand a treat.
Sunbury American (Sunbury, PA), 7 Jul. 1855

cranky disagreeable words ornery

Definition - irritable

Readers who are familiar with one of the more common senses of ornery ("irritable") might well be surprised to learn that the word is an alteration of the word ordinary, as this root word has little to do with feelings of peevishness. Yet this is the case, and there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for how this meaning came about. The English-speaking people have been writing ordinary in abbreviated fashion since the early 16th century; we have citations of it written as ornary from 1534 onward. Ornary and similar variants persist for the next few centuries, and in the 19th century the word begins to feel a bit like an insult. By the middle of the 19th century ornery is being used to mean “cantankerous” rather than “ordinary, plain,” and by the 20th century appeared to have largely severed its connection with the word that birthed it.

Old Nance went, the lines slipped off the dash board, and “old Joe” sat there till broad day light, occasionally giving the dash board a lick, and swearing that “some ornery cuss had been stretching the road as he had been driving like h——l all night, and didn’t see as he was any nearer home than when he started!
The Holmes County Republican (Millersburg, OH), 8 Oct. 1857

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