Curmudgeon, Cantankerous and Churlish: Grouchy Words

Archetypal grumpy-old-man W.C. Fields famously quipped: "Start every day off with a smile and get it over with." Whether you are a curmudgeon yourself or just know one, take a moment to delight in the lingo of grouchiness.

Read the full article: The Cranky Lexicon of Curmudgeons Day

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. cantankerous
    stubbornly obstructive and unwilling to cooperate
    What a funny joke to play on stuffy, cantankerous ol’ granddad!Washington Post (Sep 26, 2017)
    Around since the 1700s, this meaty word almost sounds like its meaning. All those hard consonant sounds are perfect for a word describing a blunt personality with no soft edges. A cantankerous person is grumpy and grouchy and full of bile they’re not afraid to spew if you bug them, which isn’t hard to do.
  2. choleric
    characterized by anger
    He returned more choleric than before, calling those he met rebels and traitors, in his mad fury.Drake, Samuel Adams
  3. churlish
    having a bad disposition; surly
    Her evening would be ruined, Donald’s churlish mood would darken her dinner, and he would probably leave after the main course, without apology.New York Times (Jun 28, 2016)
    Curmudgeons tend to gripe about other people’s manners, but they aren’t known for having such great manners themselves. You can call rude people churlish.
  4. contrary
    exact opposition
    “No, you didn’t,” I said, just to be contrary.Milkweed
    Curmudgeons aren’t always contrary, and contrarians aren’t always curmudgeonly, but the Venn diagram of the two would have considerable overlap. A contrary person, as you might notice from the root contra, is someone who is always going against others. A favorite saying of the contrary is “Well, actually…”
  5. crotchety
    having a difficult and contrary disposition
    True to his occasional crotchety nature, though, he complained about being famous or bothered by fans.Washington Post (Nov 5, 2011)
  6. curmudgeon
    an irascible, cantankerous person full of stubborn ideas
    The movie follows a lonely old curmudgeon who finds a measure of hope after a lifetime of misfortune.Los Angeles Times (Jan 10, 2017)
  7. gripe
    Moviegoers also griped about the cost of concessions such as popcorn and soda.Washington Post (Jan 2, 2018)
  8. grouch
    show one's unhappiness or critical attitude
    “But one thing I’ve learned in my twenty-eight years of living, Bobby, is that if somebody’s a grouch, it's usually because they’re not happy. And if they’re not happy, there’s a reason for it.”The Misfits
    The most famous grouch is a green Muppet who lives in a garbage can, which would make anyone grouchy. If you’re a grouch, you’re likely a curmudgeon, and definitely have some anger issues. Grouches are dismissive, crabby, negative, nitpicky, and ornery. The first known uses of this term in the late 1800s referred to grouchy statements rather than grouchy people.
  9. grouse
    People groused about subway delays and went on with their day.The Guardian (Dec 16, 2017)
  10. grumble
    make complaining remarks or noises under one's breath
    Asked what bothers them, open-plan workers say that they resent being on display and grumble about temperature, but they most commonly complain about noise.Nature
  11. ingrate
    a person who shows no gratitude
    Ever the ingrate, she was thankful to none for the unexpected chance to glitter.Lester, Pauline
    Being an ingrate is different from being a curmudgeon, but neither are what you would call happy-smiley-jolly sorts of people. This word is pretty much self-defining: an ingrate lacks gratitude. This unthankful attitude leads to all sorts of less-than-ideal behavior, such as whining, complaining, grousing, and often being a weapons-grade curmudgeon.
  12. irascible
    quickly aroused to anger
    When they’ve spent too much time on the phone, they are more bad tempered with each other and irascible with me.The Guardian (Aug 10, 2017)
    Do you know anyone hot-headed? Then you know someone irascible, which means quick to anger, a quality often associated with curmudgeons.
  13. irritable
    easily annoyed
    She’d been angry and irritable, screaming and kicking at her mother over nothing.New York Times (Feb 16, 2017)
  14. miserable
    very unhappy
    Victor Frankenstein recognized that his creation was a “ miserable monster” on the very same “dreary night of November” that he created it.The Guardian (Dec 20, 2017)
  15. miserly
    characterized by or indicative of lack of generosity
    Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” accentuates the transformation of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge into the type of generous soul we identify with the holiday season.Washington Times (Dec 27, 2017)
    Curmudgeons are constantly saying “Bah!” and “Pah!” and “Nope!” to all sorts of things: sometimes those things involve money. When someone is particularly stingy with money, you can call them miserly, and such a person is a miser. It’s no accident that these words are close to miserable, another word that describes plenty of curmudgeons.
  16. naysayer
    someone with an aggressively negative attitude
    “You can’t let them get you down. You can’t let the critics and naysayers get in the way of your dreams.”Washington Times (May 17, 2017)
    Speaking of old-fashioned, nay is an old word for no, as in, “Nay! Thou shalt not stealeth my golden chalice, varmint.” So a naysayer is someone constantly saying no. Naysayers are always doubting, contradicting, and discouraging. If you need a pep talk, stay away from naysayers.
  17. ornery
    having a difficult and contrary disposition
    The black rhino is famed for its ornery disposition and is far more apt to charge at any perceived threat.Reuters (Oct 9, 2017)
    First appearing in the 1600s, ornery began as a variation of ordinary. That may seem like a strange path, but ordinary things are sometimes dismissed as boring and mediocre, and ornery first applied to the same old, same old. From there, the term shifted from the outside world to the inner world, keeping the contempt as a common denominator.
  18. peevish
    easily irritated or annoyed
    He remained that way, breathing hard with peevish anger.Grendel
  19. scold
    censure severely or angrily
    When my father finally noticed us watching, he scolded us for sneaking up on him.The Sun Is Also a Star
    This is another word that can be a verb or noun: if you scold people a lot, you’re a scold. Scolding is the language of blame. You can scold your child for not eating dinner, and you can scold politicians for not keeping the government open. People generally don’t like to be scolded, since the scolder generally treats the scoldee like a child, no matter their age. Scolding is a close relative of nagging.
  20. testy
    easily irritated or annoyed
    I’m crankier and testier than I should be with someone who just saved my life.The Sun Is Also a Star

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