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adjective, sur·li·er, sur·li·est.
  1. churlishly rude or bad-tempered: a surly waiter.
  2. unfriendly or hostile; menacingly irritable: a surly old lion.
  3. dark or dismal; menacing; threatening: a surly sky.
  4. Obsolete. lordly; arrogant.

Origin of surly

1560–70; spelling variant of obsolete sirly lordly, arrogant, equivalent to sir + -ly
Related formssur·li·ly, adverbsur·li·ness, nounun·sur·li·ly, adverbun·sur·li·ness, nounun·sur·ly, adjective

Synonym study

Glum, morose, sullen, dour, surly all are adjectives describing a gloomy, unsociable attitude. Glum describes a depressed, spiritless condition or manner, usually temporary rather than habitual: a glum shrug of the shoulders; a glum, hopeless look in his eye. Morose, which adds to glum a sense of bitterness, implies a habitual and pervasive gloominess: a sour, morose manner; morose withdrawal from human contact. Sullen usually implies reluctance or refusal to speak accompanied by glowering looks expressing anger or a sense of injury: a sullen manner, silence, look. Dour refers to a stern and forbidding aspect, stony and unresponsive: dour rejection of friendly overtures. Surly implies gruffness of speech and manner, usually accompanied by an air of injury and ill temper: a surly reply. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for surliness


adjective -lier or -liest
  1. sullenly ill-tempered or rude
  2. (of an animal) ill-tempered or refractory
  3. dismal
  4. obsolete arrogant
Derived Formssurlily, adverbsurliness, noun

Word Origin for surly

C16: from obsolete sirly haughty; see sir
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 surliness



1560s, "lordly, majestic," alteration of Middle English sirly "lordly, imperious" (14c.), from sir. The meaning "rude, gruff" is first attested 1660s. For sense development, cf. lordly, and German herrisch "domineering, imperious," from Herr "master, lord."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper