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adjective, thorn·i·er, thorn·i·est.
  1. abounding in or characterized by thorns; spiny; prickly.
  2. thornlike.
  3. overgrown with thorns or brambles.
  4. painful; vexatious: a thorny predicament.
  5. full of difficulties, complexities, or controversial points: a thorny question.

Origin of thorny

before 1000; Middle English; Old English thornig. See thorn, -y1
Related formsthorn·i·ly, adverbthorn·i·ness, nounun·thorn·y, adjective


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5. tough, sticky, ticklish, perplexing.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018
British Dictionary definitions for thorny


adjective thornier or thorniest
  1. bearing or covered with thorns
  2. difficult or unpleasanta thorny problem
  3. sharp
Derived Formsthornily, adverbthorniness, noun
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 thorny


Old English þornig; see thorn + -y (2). Figurative sense is attested from mid-14c. Related: Thorniness.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper