January 08, 2013
surly (adjective)
\SER-lee\ Hear it!
What does it mean?
: having a rude unfriendly disposition
How do you use it?
Joan's value as a sales clerk lies in her ability to calm the tempers of surly, dissatisfied customers.
Are you a word wiz?

Nowadays we use "surly" to describe someone with a gruff ill humor. But the history of "surly" connects it to a person in a certain position in medieval society. Which one of these people might once have been expected to be considered "surly"?

The choice that should sweeten your disposition is C. The word "surly," which describes someone with a very bad temper, was at one time spelled "sirly." It comes from the familiar word "sir," which has been used for centuries as a title of respect for a gentleman or nobleman. "Sirly" was originally used to describe a person who behaved in a very proud way -- the kind of person who might insist on being called "sir." It was similar in meaning to the word "lordly." Many years of use brought about the changes in spelling and in meaning, which have given us the modern word "surly."
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