I use a word which I learned from my parents that is pronounced ahn-ree. It's meaning is somewhere between "cheeky" and "rambunctious." My wife asked me how to spell it and I was at a loss.

The closest word I've seen in print is "ornery," but everywhere I look it up the pronunciations all have a long "o," such as or-ner-ee or orn-ree. And the definitions, although similar, are slightly more pejorative, such as "ill-tempered," " difficult," or "unpleasant."

Are these the same word with a regional variation in meaning and pronunciation or is the one I use a completely different word?

I'm from the Midwest US btw.

  • 2
    See Horse–hoarse merger in Wikipedia. Note the map where it says Red areas show where in the U.S. the distinction between horse and hoarse is made or perceived by notable scatterings of documented speakers. Many black speakers maintain the distinction throughout the country. That should pretty much answer all your questions about "geographical spread" for what I imagine is a fast-disappearing distinction. Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 18:19
  • /ɑr/ (like 'are') for /or/ (like 'or') is very common in the St Louis region, leading to lots of bad jokes about "Highway Farty", and there's a good deal of non-rhoticism in these parts. Since the unstressed <er> is readily dropped (I think you'll find Twain writing it orn'ry), /ɑnri/ ('ahn'ry/ could very easily represent ornery here. Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 19:13
  • Related question dealing with the evolution of "ornery": english.stackexchange.com/q/139874/3306
    – rajah9
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 19:59
  • 1
    The word is "ornery." I'm from Michigan. I pronounce it "ORN-ry," but my grandma is from Kentucky, and she pronounces is "ON-ry" (ahn-ree). She also calls children "ufers," e.g., "Ufers go on outside." It turns out that "ufers" is her saying "you fellows."
    – user184292
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 21:19
  • 1
    I've generally pronounced it "or-ner-ee" or thereabouts, though it's the type or word that is often slurred into two syllables, and to hear it slurred is not at all shocking to me. As to meaning, a mule is the standard of orneriness -- stubborn and ill-tempered.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Aug 14, 2016 at 1:53

2 Answers 2


There are certainly regional variations; I also grew up in the Midwest US, and I would describe your parents's pronunciation as more Southern/Texan. Or-ner-ee is what I would consider correct; I don't know if I've actually heard ahn-ree other than in a movie or tv show, or for other dramatic effect.

Degree of "orneriness" depends on the subject.


I first encountered the ahn-ree pronunciation when I moved to Ohio. Drove me nuts. And now I'm listening to a country song by The Band Perry and she also pronounces with ahn-ree. I grew up in New Jersey and went to college in California, and no one pronounced it that way.

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