adjective, or·ner·i·er, or·ner·i·est. Dialect.

ugly and unpleasant in disposition or temper: No one can get along with my ornery cousin.
stubborn: I can't do a thing with that ornery mule.
low or vile.
inferior or common; ordinary.

Origin of ornery

First recorded in 1790–1800; contraction of ordinary
Related formsor·ner·i·ness, noun

Synonyms for ornery

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for ornery

Contemporary Examples of ornery

Historical Examples of ornery

  • It certainly is the home camp of some of the most ornery reptiles, that a-way!

    Faro Nell and Her Friends

    Alfred Henry Lewis

  • To 'n ornery gentleman—of the road or what you will—I'm not, if so be he's the necessary.


    Joseph Conrad and F.M. Hueffer

  • They're little an' young an' they ain't never done nothin' ornery.

    The Gold Girl

    James B. Hendryx

  • The other fellow was about thirty, and dressed about as ornery.

    Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Complete

    Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)

  • He ain't no ornery, bloomin' skipper, nor Calamity ain't his name.

    Captain Calamity

    Rolf Bennett

British Dictionary definitions for ornery


adjective US and Canadian dialect, or informal

stubborn or vile-tempered
low; treacherousan ornery trick
Derived Formsorneriness, noun

Word Origin for ornery

C19: alteration of ordinary
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 ornery

1816, American English dialectal contraction of ordinary (adj.). "Commonplace," hence "of poor quality, coarse, ugly." By c.1860 the sense had evolved to "mean, cantankerous." Related: Orneriness.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper