Printable Version
Pronunciation: pe-chê-lênt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Irascible, hot-headed, easily or too quickly angered by petty annoyances.

Notes: Today's Good Word comes with a substantial family of derivatives: an adverb, petulantly, and a choice of two nouns, petulance or petulancy. Like all English adjectives ending on NT, this one forms its noun by replacing the T with CE. The suffix -y may be added for good measure should you need an extra syllable, if you first remove the final E. Look out for the spelling -ant. It is difficult to keep track of which adjective with this (same) suffix is spelled with an E or an A. This one is spelled with an A.

In Play: Today's word is distinguished from anger in that it is anger that arises too quickly over a trivial issue: "Don't mention what the wind did to Harriet's hairdo; you know how petulant she is." Petulance is a bit milder than flying off the handle; it is a rather moderate anger: "I thought the senator's petulance toward the press was well expressed and well deserved."

Word History: Today's Good Word came to us, via French as usual, from Latin petulan(t)s "rushing at, insolent" from the root of petere "rush at, seek", the same root underlying petitio(n) "petition, request". The original Proto-Indo-European base was pet-/pot- "to fly, flow" found in Sanskrit patram "wing, feather, leaf", Hittite pittar "wing", Latin penna "feather, wing", English feather, and Greek potamos "river (flowing water)", as in the name of the "river horse", hippopotamus. Apparently, the sense of flying at someone came to the sense of petitioning them, an act considered by some as insolent. The sense "petition" emerged in the noun, petitio(n), while the sense "insolence" came out in the participle, petulans, petulantis. (Even though Chris Stewart is not at all a petulant soul, I hasten now to thank him for suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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