Tuesday, October 25, 2011

O IS FOR...

O IS FOR...ORNERY


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.


15 comments:

photowannabe said...

Well Chris, I had no idea how that word came to be. Isn't it fascinating how words evolve?
Terrific post and I will try not to be ordinary or ornary.

mrsnesbitt said...

Hmmmmmm love the post! ABC Wednesday brings all sorts of information to us - that's why we love it!

Denise ABC Team

Roger Owen Green said...

I think of ornery, not just as US, but US south, maybe rural mountains - Arkansas?

ROG, ABC Wednesday team

Hildred and Charles said...

I have always thought of ornery as being obstinate, but you present some really interesting information, Chris.

chubskulit said...

That would describe my son sometimes hehehe but in a cute way.

Learn some Filipino custom and words with my O entr

Gerald (Hyde DP) said...

fascinating account of the derivation of the word.

conservativelybohemian said...

Well, now this post had me smiling from ear to ear. I've used the word ornery since I began dealing with kids...whether babysitting or my own or the grandkids. LOL

Jo Bryant said...

I love learning about words - this was a great read

Tumblewords: said...

Laughing. Isn't language a hoot? It's hard to tell where the lines stop.

Gattina said...

as translation for the word "ornery" my english/german dictionary told me : "No results"!
But cantankerous exists so I enlarged my English ! In French the expression "dead common" exists too, and means "ordinary", lol !

PS : thanks for the Word verification it is : SWINE ! lol !

jane said...

My Grandma used to say of my Grandad 'He is a bit ordinary today!' so we would all watch out! - and the phrase 'dead common'
is used a lot overhere in a jokey way - super post - Jane UK

Morning's Minion said...

I knew the meaning of 'ornery'--have met it here in KY pronounced as "on-ree." [accent on first syllable.]
I love words and learning about their derivations.

Meryl said...

I am late this week with my ABC comments, but glad I didn't miss this one! GREAT POST. It is a really neat word - and so much fun to utter.

Grammy Goodwill said...

That is so interesting. I wish I were still teaching so I could share that with a class. By the way, I pronounce that as ON-REE.

jabblog said...

I didn't know the derivation of ornery and had always assumed it was American. 'Dead' in dead common means 'very' - it's often used in that sense - dead good, dead clever, etc. - but why?