adjective, prick·li·er, prick·li·est.

full of or armed with prickles.
full of troublesome points: a prickly problem.
prickling; smarting: a prickly sensation.

Origin of prickly

First recorded in 1570–80; prickle + -y1
Related formsprick·li·ness, nounun·prick·ly, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

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

having or covered with prickles
stinging or tingling
bad-tempered or irritable
full of difficulties; knottya prickly problem
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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper