• tetchy •
Pronunciation: te-chee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Peevish, testy, irritable.
Notes: For years I thought this word was a mispronunciation of touchy, a word with a similar meaning. This misperception is encouraged by the fact that tetched (in the head) is, in fact, a dialectal variant of touched. As the Word History will show, touchy may have influenced today's Good Word, but it is not the source of it. Tetchy is a normal authentic English word. It compares like short Germanic adjectives (tetchier, tetchiest) and has a noun that also requires the replacement of the Y by I: tetchiness.
In Play: This word is often used with the modifier mite instead of little: "Be careful of what you say to Hilda: she has been a mite tetchy since she accidentally locked herself in the toilet and had to wait for the locksmith to liberate her." I always like the alliteration resulting from combining it with tad, though: "Susan Liddy-Gates was a tad tetchy after losing a major civil case to the attorneys at the law firm of Howe, Dewey, Cheatham & Wynn."
Word History: This Good Word seems to be related to a host of historical words, but none seem to have the right meaning. The Middle English word tache or teche "blemish" was taken from Old French tache, sometimes spelled teche, with the same meaning. If this is the source of today's adjective, how the meaning migrated to "peevish" is a mystery. Some have proposed that it was influenced by touchy; however, it is more likely that the meaning of this word was influenced by that of tetchy. Tache, if this word is the source, was a descendant of Vulgar Latin tacca, a word borrowed from a Germanic language, perhaps Gothic taikn "sign, token".