We just rang in a new year, hoping and expecting it to be better than the last. Last week, we wished for all to be better. But we haven’t really slammed 2020 in a fitting way, having lacked a suitable vocabulary of words to describe just how disagreeable it was.

That changed with the latest list from Merriam-Webster, my main source of all things educational.

They’ve given me words for the cranky and disagreeable. Some you know. Some are new to us all, I think.

The first is disputatious, which you can probably figure out. It describes a friend who disagrees with everything you say and every plan you make. A dispute.

Cantankerous you’ve probably heard. Maybe even been. Just another really old word for disagreeable.

Captious is new to me, but the actions it represents certainly aren’t. People who are captious stress the faults of others and raise objections meant to confuse and entangle in argument.

Peevish is easy to be and easy to remember. It’s somebody with an ill temper. Do you know somebody who’s peevish? Of course you do.

I only heard hangry this year, but apparently it has been around a while. It means you’re angry because you’re hungry. Makes sense.

Think of a crying baby whose bottle isn’t getting ready fast enough. Our list maker says hangry has been in use for about 60 years.

This one seems to be just the opposite. Stomachful. We’ve all had just a stomachful of the year 2020. It means resentful, to the ultimate degree.

When you’ve had a stomachful, you get fumish, which means having a tendency to fume. Originally, it meant to smoke but graduated to a state of irritation or anger.

Choleric describes someone who’s hot-tempered. It began as one of the four humors that made up the human body. They were phlegm, black bile, yellow bile and blood. They controlled our actions. Choler was another term for yellow bile and gave us choleric. It sort of moves along the same lines as the belief that people with red hair have bad tempers.

Cranky we all know and use. People who are cranky don’t like to be opposed. They get really angry. When I think of cranky, I think of little children. It goes originally to being full of twists and turns.

This one is British: narky. Marked by ill temper and irritability. Also British is shirty, which means about the same. As in “keep your shirt on.”

This one I like and use all the time. I know you know people who are ornery. I think of them as being pretty old. Ornery old men, for instance. The word came from ordinary, which makes no sense.

After the yellow bile of choleric comes splenetic, which comes from the black bile of the spleen. Another part of the body that gets blamed for bad actions. It means bad temper, malevolence or spite.

OK, hurl all these ugly words at the departing year, and let’s get on with better times.

Cathy Gillentine is a Daily News columnist. She may be reached at cathy.gillentine@comcast.net.


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(3) comments

Bailey Jones

When I was a kid my mom would say I was an "ornery cuss". I can't disagree.

Disputatious, cantankerous, captious, and peevish is a pretty good description of what passes for dialogue here in the peanut gallery.

One has to wonder whose job it was to determine which color the different biles are. I think I'd get a stomachful of that real quick.

Patricia C Newsom

Love your column this morning. Couldn’t help myself with lots of laughter. And Bailey, you are a fast learner! Thanks-

Jose' Boix

Excellent "pandemic musings," using words that I have recently cobbled. And, to follow, please consider that: 2020 was considered to be an "odd" year. However, 2021 is an "odd year;" 2020 was "even."

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