Word of the Month: Obstreperous

David Zapatka

Reader and friend Karen Jorgensen writes, “Dave, I came across a word in a novel that had me pause and reread. The word is ‘obstreperous.’ It was describing the ‘attributes’ of the villain.”

Obstreperous – adjective ob·strep·er·ous əb-ˈstre-p(ə-)rəs, äb- Obstreperously – adverb; obstreperousness – noun.

1. marked by unruly or aggressive noisiness: clamorous <obstreperous merriment> <an obstreperous argument>

2. stubbornly resistant to control: unruly <obstreperous behavior> <an obstreperous child>

Examples of obstreperous used in a sentence:

1. The third grade teacher had a room full of obstreperous kids.

2. The nightly news showed an obstreperous crowd protesting yet another federal program revealing their appetite for condoning more violence.

The Latin prefix ob-, meaning “in the way,” “against” or “toward,” occurs in many Latin and English words. “Obstreperous” comes from ob- plus strepere, a verb meaning “to make a noise,” so someone who is obstreperous is literally making noise to rebel against something, much like a protesting crowd or an unruly child. The word has been used in English since around the beginning of the 17th century. “Strepere” has not played a role in the formation of any other notable English words, but “ob-” words abound. These words include “obese,” “obnoxious,” “obsessive,” “oblivious,” “obscenity,” “obscurity” and “obstructionist.”

Historical examples of “obstreperous” in use:

“They are not so obstreperous as the wren, nor so shy as the lark and the robin.” A Breeze from the Woods, William Chauncey Bartlett

“Little fish are often the most obstreperous and the most troublesome.” Freaks on the Fells, R. M. Ballantyne

Contemporary examples of “obstreperous” in use:

“Even the messiest, most obstreperous books are reduced to a litany of bullet points, or a single bullet point.” Ken Kesey’s Wars: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at 50, Nathaniel Rich

“He liked to drink, colleagues say, and would occasionally get obstreperous.” Is This Dave’s Blackmailer?, Lloyd Grove

Would you like to share your obstreperous experiences with our readers? Please email these and any word you may like to share, along with your insights and comments, to [email protected].