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.

  • 1
    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. – FumbleFingers Jul 14 '16 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. – StoneyB on hiatus Jul 14 '16 at 19:13
  • Related question dealing with the evolution of "ornery": english.stackexchange.com/q/139874/3306 – rajah9 Jul 14 '16 at 19:59
  • 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." – Benjamin Harman Jul 14 '16 at 21:19
  • 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 Aug 14 '16 at 1:53

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.

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