Friday, August 27, 2010

Mystery Solved...

Last night I was serving a lovely British family from Chettenham, UK (2 parents and their daughter). After their dinner I asked if they'd be interested in dessert, and they said they were, but wanted a 15 minute reading break. Of course. So they all pulled out their books and read.
When I returned, the woman told me she met some 'yanks' that day using the word "ordinary" in the strangest context. She said the cowboy she was talking to was discussing his horse and how short-tempered and "ordinary" the horse was. "But he didn't even say ordinary, he said ornry."
ME: "Oh awnry??" Apparently this word is not in the British vocabulary.
She then asked me how to spell the word and I had no idea. We tried seven spellings of the word in my dictionary and couldn't find it. Awnry, aunry, onry, aunrey, onree. However, a knowledgeable eavesdropping gent at the next table observing our struggle chimed in, "It's spelled O-R-N-E-R-Y. It's an American invention from the nineteenth century, and began with the mis-pronunciation of the word ordinary." Well thank you Mr. Etymological Dictionary.

ornery |ˈôrn(ə)rē|
adjective informal
bad-tempered and combative : some hogs are just mean and ornery.
• stubborn : taking the singer's ornery radicalism in a different direction.
orneriness |ˈɔrn(ə)rin1s| noun
ORIGIN early 19th cent.: variant of ordinary , representing a dialect pronunciation.

The funny thing about it is, American's pronounce their own word with a British accent. Ornery is awnry. But there you have it. The correct spelling of the word, awnry, and it's explained origins.


  1. Let me set the record straight! Ornery, means difficult, it may have started out to mean ordinary, however, in East Tennessee, it means difficult!


  2. I will have to try using that more often as an American living in the UK. I love confusing people. They have a lot of words we don't use and so far my favorite is "squidgy" (and that is probably not the correct spelling). It is usually used as a description for a nice soft gooey texture of fudge cake. I think it just sounds funny!

  3. *Cheltenham

    I watch far too much American TV, but I hadn't heard of "Ornery" either.