Word: petulant

Pronunciation: PE-chə-lənt

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: childishly sulky or bad-tempered

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


“I’m not going anywhere,” said Ursula Monkton, and she sounded petulant, like a very small child who wanted something.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman, 2013)

Here’s another word I learned from a novel. I recently came across the word “petulant” while reading Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Though I couldn’t remember ever seeing this word before, its meaning was perfectly clear in context, as it was being used to describe an adult who was behaving like a child.

A “petulant” person or manner is bad-tempered or sulky in a childish way. The word, originally used in the late 16th century to mean “immodest”, can be traced back through the French adjective pétulant to the Latin adjective petulans, meaning “insolent” or “unruly”. This adjective is related to the verb petere, which means “to aim at” or “to seek”.

Though I’d most likely associate the word “petulant” with children, the above excerpt proves that it can work just as well (if not better) for adults who display childish behavior. If any of your characters tend to sulk when they don’t get their way, this would be a good word to remember the next time you need to describe them. As for me, I admit this word could sometimes be used to define my own attitude toward my writing: I’m such a perfectionist that sometimes I can’t help but act a little “petulant” when my work doesn’t come out with the quality I want. I hope you aren’t the same!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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