O is for Ornery

There are some words that are just not British. And this is one of them. Ornery. I came across it splashed across a snickers bar the other day and took a quick photo:


Who are you when you are hungry? the bar asks. In fact all the answers pretty much bemused me… (Princess? Sleepy? or Ornery??) but only ornery had me stumped. It even, for some reason, is really hard for me to pronounce.

A quick internet surf has revealed that the word comes from a contraction of the word ordinary – makes total sense – which in time has come to mean grumpy. It is a good old word with solid credentials at least as far back as 1884 when Mark Twain published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

I have never read and no intention of reading said book. I’d even go so far as to say that I am actually definitively planning on NOT reading that book since I couldn’t make it all the way through reading Tom Sawyer to Child 2.

But it does make for an interesting study of a word in transition. Here are two quotes from Mr Finn, one using ornery meaning ordinary, and the other meaning grumpy, cantankerous or difficult. Or at least that’s what I think. If you think differently, let me know.

1.”It was pretty ornery preaching—all about brotherly love, and such-like tiresomeness; but everybody said it was a good sermon”

2.”All I say is, kings is kings, and you got to make allowances. Take them all around, they’re a mighty ornery lot. It’s the way they’re raised.”



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