Printable Version
Pronunciation: sêr-li Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Churlish, gruff, very grumpy. 2. Crass if not even a bit thuggish, threatening.

Notes: Today's Good Word comes with a noun, surliness, and an adverb surlily. The latter is rarely used since it sounds a bit silly and childish, just the opposite of the word's meaning. The comparative of this word is surlier and the superlative, surliest.

In Play: Most of us find events in our lives that make us a little bit surly from time to time: "I'm not surprised that Federico has been a bit surly after Maria slipped the chili pepper into his soup at lunch." However, surliness can become a real threat: "Gunnar told me that if I didn't stay away from his girl, he would send a couple of surly thugs over to rearrange my facial features. Do you think he would?"

Word History: Today's Good Word has fallen far from grace since it first appeared in the middle of the 16th century. It began its life two centuries earlier as sirly "lordly, haughty", based on the word sir. As the meaning of "haughty" developed into "arrogant, overbearing", the spelling changed as well. A churl in old England was an uncultured, illiterate peasant, so the fact that surly today means "churlish" shows just how far this word has sunk over the course of its life. Sir itself is a reduction of sire, a respectful form of address to a man. Sire came to us from Old French sieur. This French word is a reduction of Latin senior "older", which also appears today in Romance languages as Italian signor(e), Portuguese senhor, and Spanish seor. (We will not be so surly as to forget to thank Seor Stan Davis for suggesting today's Good if fallen Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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