adjective, gnarl·i·er, gnarl·i·est.

Slang. distasteful; distressing; offensive; gross: a comic noted for his gnarly humor.

Origin of gnarly

First recorded in 1820–30; gnarl1 + -y1
Related formsgnarl·i·ness, noun Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for gnarly

Contemporary Examples of gnarly

Historical Examples of gnarly

  • “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.

  • 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

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

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