Prickly, abrasive and churlish: talking about people you don’t like (3)

portrait of an old man frowning angrily
John Rensten/The Image Bank/GettyImages

by Liz Walter

This is the final post in a short series about words for people we don’t like. This post will concentrate on describing people who are bad-tempered, rude, or cruel.

Someone who has a short fuse becomes angry very quickly, while someone who doesn’t suffer fools (gladly) is very impatient with people they think are stupid. Someone with a chip on their shoulder is often angry because they think they have been treated unfairly and someone who is like a bear with a sore head is in a very bad mood:

Be careful with Bob. He’s charming, but he has a short fuse.

She was a tough boss and didn’t suffer fools gladly.

He still has a chip on his shoulder about his poor upbringing.

Stay away from Sue – she’s like a bear with a sore head this morning.

Someone who is unwilling to be pleasant may be described as sullen or surly. An argumentative or confrontational person often causes arguments. Someone who is abrasive has a rude manner, while a prickly person takes offence very easily:

The room was full of surly teenagers.

I wish he would discuss the issue calmly instead of being so argumentative.

I find Paula a bit prickly.

For some more vocabulary connected to anger, have a look also at this post on the language of anger by my colleague Kate Woodford.

Discourteous is formal adjective for someone who is not polite. If they mock or insult people, we might use an adjective such as impertinent or insolent:

I found his response to my letter extremely discourteous.

They asked several impertinent questions about my private life.

The descriptions coarse, vulgar and uncouth all describe people who are rude in a way that often shows a lack of education and good manners. When someone is rude to someone who does not deserve such behaviour, we often use the adjective churlish:

He made their lives a misery with his drunken and uncouth behaviour.

After everything she’s done for me, it would be churlish to refuse her invitation.

Sometimes people seem rude because they are tactless (they act without considering the feelings of others). We could also describe them as thoughtless or inconsiderate:

It was very tactless to mention her debts.

We were shocked by the inconsiderate behaviour of some drivers.

I’ll end this post with some words for describing cruelty. Someone who says nasty things about other people could be described as bitchy, catty or having a sharp tongue. The words spiteful and malicious both imply that behaviour is deliberately intended to hurt someone, while someone who is sadistic gets pleasure from hurting other people:

Their bitchy comments really upset me.

Locking him out of the house was downright malicious.

She described her father as a sadistic bully.

It is quite extraordinary how many critical words and phrases we have – I could go on and on, but I think this is enough for now and I’m sure you’ll be able to think of many more. For a bit of balance, look out for my next post, which will cover the opposite – how to describe nice people!

14 thoughts on “Prickly, abrasive and churlish: talking about people you don’t like (3)

  1. Denis

    It is really nice of you to provide us with such a splendid array of vocabulary. In addition, I’d like to share a couple of my favourite expressions:
    ‘mad as a box of frogs’ or ‘mad as a sack of ferrets’
    ‘go berserk’ or ‘go ape’

  2. Ammar Briki

    A rich and diversified vocabulary to describe the personal relations .Some words look like French language such as impertinent,insolent or even the expression sharp tongue’ (langue fourchue)..but some others are new for me such as uncouth,churlish …though bitchy person or malicious software are not ‘unknown .Thank you for sharing your precious and thoughtful teaching English..

  3. Alex

    Guys, can you make an article about trial process, court, law cases, and everything? There are so many confusing words on this topic, I think it would be pretty helpful

  4. Sam Kasemxai

    A very helpful column to learn new words/phrases/idiomatic expressions. And also a fun way to learn them. Many thanks.

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