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[nahr-lee] /ˈnɑr li/
adjective, gnarlier, gnarliest.
Slang. distasteful; distressing; offensive; gross:
a comic noted for his gnarly humor.
Origin of gnarly
First recorded in 1820-30; gnarl1 + -y1
Related forms
gnarliness, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for gnarly
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • “The gnarly trees, their twisted branches”—recommenced the top boy.

    Three Men on the Bummel Jerome K. Jerome
  • The latter had been shaved and smoothed over every gnarly place.

  • The chance apple tree beside the road, with fruit too gnarly to eat, is common on roadsides throughout New England.

    Trees Worth Knowing Julia Ellen Rogers
  • In front stands the old brown anvil set upon a gnarly maple block.

    Adventures In Friendship David Grayson
  • They were twisted and gnarly, and with scarcely the semblance of the full meaty calf such as graces your leg and mine.

    Before Adam Jack London
  • And as he peers he crooks one monstrous leg and with his gnarly toes scratches himself on the stomach.

    Before Adam Jack London
  • He was tall and gnarly and the point of his chin rested stiffly on the slope of his shoulder.

    Shadow Mountain Dane Coolidge
British Dictionary definitions for gnarly


another word for gnarled
(NZ, informal) good; great
(surfing, slang) difficult and dangerous
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
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Word Origin and History for gnarly

1829, "knotted and rugged," from gnarl (see gnarled) + -y (2). Picked up 1970s as surfer slang to describe a dangerous wave; it had spread in teen slang by 1982, where it meant both "excellent" and "disgusting."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for gnarly



  1. Excellent; wonderful; cool, hairy, great: That girl is gnarly. She goes to every party there is
  2. Disgusting: So, when the halls became a little too gnarly for Principal Charles Lutgen/ ''Gnarly'' means disgusting

[1980s+ Teenagers; said to have originated among 1970s surfers, describing a dangerous wave; this sense persisted among skateboarders until at least 1988]

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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