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  1. (of trees) full of or covered with gnarls; bent; twisted.
  2. having a rugged, weather-beaten appearance: a gnarled old sea captain.
  3. crabby; cantankerous.

Origin of gnarled

First recorded in 1595–1605; variant of knurled
Related formsun·gnarled, adjective


  1. a knotty protuberance on a tree; knot.
verb (used with object)
  1. to twist into a knotted or distorted form.

Origin of gnarl1

First recorded in 1805–15; back formation from gnarled


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2. contort, distort.


verb (used without object)
  1. to growl; snarl.

Origin of gnarl2

First recorded in 1585–95; variant of gnar
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for gnarled

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • He had limbs of great length, and muscles like the gnarled heads of a beech.

  • Gnarled cedars, hanging precariously, might hide pixies and elves.

    The White Invaders

    Raymond King Cummings

  • So that the more knotted and gnarled a log of mahogany is, the better.

    Forests of Maine

    Jacob S. Abbott

  • She got up out of the hay, and put out a gnarled brown hand for it.

    The Lowest Rung</p>

    Mary Cholmondeley

  • Even from the path he saw extending from the heap an arm, a gnarled hand.

    Mountain Blood

    Joseph Hergesheimer

British Dictionary definitions for gnarled


  1. having gnarls
  2. (esp of hands) rough, twisted, and weather-beaten in appearance
  3. perverse or ill-tempered


  1. any knotty protuberance or swelling on a tree
  1. (tr) to knot or cause to knot

Word Origin

C19: back formation from gnarled, probably variant of knurled; see knurl


gnar (nɑː)

  1. (intr) obsolete to growl or snarl

Word Origin

C16: of imitative origin
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for gnarled


the source of the group of words that includes gnarl (v.), gnarl (n.), gnarly is Shakespeare's use of gnarled in 1603:

Thy sharpe and sulpherous bolt Splits the vn-wedgable and gnarled Oke. ["Measure for Measure," II.ii.116]

OED and Barnhart call it a variant of knurled, from Middle English knar "knot in wood" (late 14c.), originally "a rock, a stone;" of uncertain origin. "(Gnarled) occurs in one passage of Shakes. (for which the sole authority is the folio of 1623), whence it came into general use in the nineteenth century" [OED].



"contort, twist," 1814, a back-formation from gnarled. As a noun from 1824. Earlier the verb was used in a sense of "to snarl" (1590s).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

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