ORNERY is a word that for me seems typically American in usage. I have no idea why. I just don’t remember anyone using that word when I lived in England. Maybe it hadn’t come into fashion back then. But I like to use the word. I think it is quite descriptive. I looked up its derivation and found it interesting and actually more British in its connotation than I thought.
The word ORNERY means cantankerous. (I like that word too.) Another good synonym for it would be ‘grumpy’…. Ah, now we all know what I am talking about.
But the derivation of the word is unexpected. It actually comes from the word ‘ordinary’, according to Wikipedia. So what does ‘ordinary’ have to do with ‘grumpy’?
Apparently ‘ordinary’ is associated with the word ‘gentile’, (no, not Gentile as opposed to Jewish, but jenteel as in the French) also spelled genteel in the US. So in the day when it was first used, a mother might say to her child, “Don’t be ordinary”, as opposed to “Behave in a more genteel way and don’t be ‘ordinary’”.
The British might use the word ‘common’ as in “The King is not allowed to marry a commoner”, that is, someone who is ordinary or not born into the aristocracy. Eventually, to be a commoner became recognized as being someone of the unpleasant lower classes. (Please, that is not my opinion, I’m just trying to explain.) So today the British might describe someone as “dead common” which is a common (frequently used) phrase, although I don’t know why the word ‘dead’ is used here! So eventually the word evolved from ‘ordinary’ to ‘ornery’ meaning ‘common’, then to something that is not in good taste, then evolving to mean something unpleasant and/or obstinate, and now today, ’grumpy’ – or ‘cantankerous’.
I was going to get into the derivation of ‘cantankerous’ and ‘grumpy’ but trying to explain the above and having come across some explanations of some phrases which could be described as ‘dead common’ I think I’ll stop while the going is good. I will simply add that there are some common phrases which I came across that I thought were in perfectly good taste which I will never use again after researching this post!
This post is part of Mrs. Nesbitt's ABC WEDNESDAY project. Please click on the link to see more contributions. I assure you none of us are ornery and we won't bite. In fact we will be thrilled if you just leave a comment to say that you have visited.