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See more synonyms for prickly on Thesaurus.com
adjective, prick·li·er, prick·li·est.
  1. full of or armed with prickles.
  2. full of troublesome points: a prickly problem.
  3. prickling; smarting: a prickly sensation.
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Origin of prickly

First recorded in 1570–80; prickle + -y1
Related formsprick·li·ness, nounun·prick·ly, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for prickly

complicated, knotty, nettlesome, tricky, ticklish, touchy, grumpy, cantankerous, edgy, annoying, barbed, bothersome, bristly, intricate, involved, pointed, sharp, stimulating, troublesome, trying

Examples from the Web for prickly

Contemporary Examples of prickly

Historical Examples of prickly

  • The hair was wet and matted and prickly leaves were stuck in it.

    Pee-wee Harris

    Percy Keese Fitzhugh

  • It had no gate but a gap in the fence, and no fence but a hedge of the prickly pear and the aloe.

    The Scapegoat

    Hall Caine

  • The prickly threads are quite characteristic; the spinules are 3–5 mic.

  • The very sound of those words gives me a sort of prickly feeling.


    Edna Ferber

  • This is the region where the cacao-tree and prickly sarsaparilla grow.

    The Western World

    W.H.G. Kingston

British Dictionary definitions for prickly


adjective -lier or -liest
  1. having or covered with prickles
  2. stinging or tingling
  3. bad-tempered or irritable
  4. full of difficulties; knottya prickly problem
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Derived Formsprickliness, 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 prickly


1570s, "spiny, armed with prickles" (originally of holly leaves), from prickle (n.) + -y (2). Figurative sense of "irritable" first recorded 1862. Prickly heat is from 1736, so called for the sensation; prickly pear is from 1760 (earlier prickle pear, 1610s). Related: Prickliness.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper