ahb-stre-pê-rês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Belligerently boisterous, loudly and uncontrollably obnoxious. 2. Contrary and cantankerous, immune to reason or advice.
Notes: The spelling and pronunciation of obstreperous are fairly straightforward so long as you are familiar with the suffix -ous. Obstreperous has a natural adverb, obstreperously, and noun, obstreperousness. In his rollicking and bawdy novel, Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne has even ventured a verb: "Thump-thump-obstreperated the abbess...with the end of her gold-headed cane against the bottom of the calesh" (a light carriage).
In Play: This word is quite descriptive of the Middle Eastern dictators at the root of the pandemonium discussed yesterday. But let's stick close to home today. Today's is an obviously Good Word for bartenders: "If you guys get any more obstreperous, I'll have to call out the bouncer—and he doesn't like to be woken up this time of night." But the sort of rowdiness implied by this Good Word is all around us: "Okay, if you kids continue to be so obstreperous, I'll have to send some of you home." Today's word itself may punish your kids enough to get their attention.
Word History: Obstreperous is an English make-over of Latin obstreperus "noisy", an adjective from the verb obstrepere "to make a noise". The verb consists of the prefix ob- "against" + strepere "to make a noise". The verb here is probably related to Latin stertare "to snore", which many believe is of imitative origin. Icelandic þrefa [threfa] and Old English þreft [threft] "quarrel" may be related but þreft did not survive and other kinswords of this root are difficult to find among the Indo-European languages. (I am sure we can all find sufficient thanks for Terry Hernandez, who first suggested today's Good Word.)