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Curmudgeons and Proper Curmudgeonly Behavior

Karen is privileged to know some impressive curmudgeons. She is still considering whether to become a battleaxe or an old biddy.

Curmudgeonry: A Noble Ambition

I thought I should take a break from more serious topics to explain curmudgeons, curmudgeonly behavior, and curmudgeonry in general. Many people seem to think curmudgeons just happen and do not realize there are people who want to be, and even aspire to be, curmudgeons.

This article grew from a conversation I had with a college friend who aspired to be a curmudgeon. I thought it was a wonderful ambition, but you just can't do it when you're twenty. At forty, you might possibly be able to convince small kids you are a curmudgeon, since to anyone under 10, anyone over 30 is ancient.

Sketch of Proper Curmudgeonry

What is a Curmudgeon

A curmudgeon is the antithesis of femininity. That does not mean the curmudgeon is the ultimate man, it just means the qualities of a very feminine woman - delicacy, prettiness, warmth, softness, sweetness, sparkle - pretty well define what a curmudgeon is not.

A curmudgeon is that elderly man in the neighborhood with enough strength and spirit left to terrify children caught trespassing or maybe even trick-or-treating. Humanity is of little or no interest to a curmudgeon; what he most desires from others is that they would leave him alone. He will probably do his best to help everyone wish to leave him alone, by being moderately repellent to the eye, ear, and nose. But only moderately. He is not particularly trying to offend people, he just sees no point in pleasing them.

Note that a curmudgeon is not a crackpot. Or rather, not all crackpots are curmudgeons, and not all curmudgeons are crackpots. But probably all crackpots and curmudgeons admire each other.

In literature and movies, curmudgeons are the ones taught, usually by a sweet young child, to be friendly and love life. It makes a nice story, and it loses you your curmudgeon license. The perfect example of a curmudgeon is of course Ebenezer Scrooge (note the wonderfully odd-sounding, old-fashioned name with no hint of delicacy to it). Scrooge would be a synonym for "curmudgeon" if it weren't for the end of the story, which just ruins the whole thing. Curmudgeons can go to church on Christmas, worship, and even sing (preferably off-key) but they do not "keep Christmas". That would imply laughter, joyfulness, and all sorts of things like fun. Fun is unproductive.

Detail of Curmudgeonly Hairstyle


What isn't a Curmudgeon

Anyone personable, expressive, relational, or stylish is not a curmudgeon. A hail-fellow-well-met attitude is simply out of the question. Interior decorators, counselors, artists, politicians, motivational speakers, and teambuilders would have to make major changes in their outlook to ever aspire to curmudgeonry.

Extroverts will probably never make it as a curmudgeon. A football player might grow up to be a curmudgeon, but only after he gets over having to be part of a team. Curmudgeons are not team players, bridge-builders, or compromisers.

Curmudgeons do not write books without lots of technical diagrams. A curmudgeon might under some circumstances play a trumpet or tuba, but never a flute. An accordion or flugelhorn would be best.

You might be surprised how possible it is for English teachers, linguists, and composers to become curmudgeons - remember Beethoven. It's possible to love words and music without using them to communicate and relate.


Note the notable eyebrows, and how they are subtly mismatched.

Note the notable eyebrows, and how they are subtly mismatched.

Curmudgeonly Communication

There isn't any. You cannot be a curmudgeon and communicate. It is fine to talk; talk all you want as long as it is at great length and in extreme detail on a subject everyone else ought to care about and doesn't, such as the composition of moon rocks, why the economy resembles Genghis Khan's empire, or the current state of your sinuses. You should not ask questions, except for rhetorical ones. Questions imply you want someone else's input.

Note that communication has to do with people understanding you and coming back with ideas of their own. Remember, it doesn't matter if people understand you. They ought to, and if they don't, it's their own fault. But you don't need their ideas, because they are young and foolish and there is no point in even talking about what they call ideas until they grow up.

Anybody who is always urging you to communicate is obviously someone who hasn't grown up.

Curmudgeonly Expressions

A curmudgeon should either be capable of saying "Harrumph", "Humph", or "Hmmf" convincingly. How do you know if you are convincing? When you say it, people should look taken aback or even offended. They should not be able to think of anything to say in return.

If you can't harrumph convincingly, it is almost as good to just look as if you could. Do not be distracted by anyone who tells you not to have that expression because your face might freeze that way. The whole point of being a curmudgeon is to appear semi-petrified. "Crusty" is a term often applied to curmudgeons, for good reason. Aim for tough, unpalatable, and possibly a bit stale.

Suitable Fit for Curmudgeon Clothing


What Curmudgeons Wear

Curmudgeons wear anything they want to, as long as it doesn't doesn't convey the idea of modernity and style. There are many ways to accomplish this. The simplest one is avoiding clothes that fit and preferring clothes with stains. Another way is to pick a historical period and wear only clothes of that period. This also gives you the chance to hold forth to anyone who accidentally asks, on why that historical period was better than this one.

Ripped and torn clothing is not so good for curmudgeons, since that is the current style. Rips imply carelessness. If you have a tear in your clothing that clearly has a purpose (such as, it's actually a bullet hole from the Spanish-American war), that will work.

A cane is a suitable accessory for a curmudgeon, as long as it looks practical and cheap. There are some stylish canes out there nowadays that would hardly even provide a good thrashing to whippersnappers.

It is useful for curmudgeons not to hear too well, especially when people are talking foolishness. Curmudgeons do not wear hearing aids. To whom would they listen? Oh, and the female equivalent of a curmudgeon would use "whom", and correctly too, but curmudgeons use "ain't".

Suitable Careers for Curmudgeons

Nobody should be quite sure what a curmudgeon does for a living. That means either nobody understands the work (certain types of physics could fit) or everybody knows what you do, but nobody knows why anyone would pay you for it.

The ideal curmudgeon is retired. If that is not possible, almost-penniless unemployment is pretty good. Being an engineer, accountant, general, or something like that, would not be too bad. Really, anything will work if it is not touchy-feely or likely to spread happiness and joy. Boot camp drill instructors would be perfect curmudgeons except that they are almost always too young.

Curmudgeons of History and Literature

Ebenezer Scrooge

Eeyore (according to A. A. Milne, not necessarily Disney...but demonstrating that the right attitude can make a curmudgeon even out of something as cute as a stuffed animal)

Beethoven (so keep in mind that today's curmudgeon could be considered a genius by a later generation who doesn't actually have to know him in person - and that later generation will consider today's generation unintelligent and boorish for having disliked the curmudgeon!)

George Patton (at least as played in Patton by George C. Scott)

Possibly Columbus, at least until he got popular

Maybe Vince Lombardi ("Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing" is a rather curmudgeonly statement)

Mr. Wilson in "Dennis the Menace", as a commenter helpfully pointed out

It is hard making this list without including several friends of mine who are not known to history, or much of anyone else, yet. So let's move on to:

Not Curmudgeons

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (many curmudgeonly characteristics, but having had 2 loving wives and 11 children sort of disqualifies him)

Stalin (showed interest in people and people loved him, even though he was busy having them shot at the time)

Abraham Lincoln (some good curmudgeonly characteristics, but again enjoyed his wife and children way too much)

May a curmudgeon marry?

If a curmudgeon wanted to get married, he certainly wouldn't ask whether he "may".

A bachelor is a promising start to a curmudgeon. You could get there from here. A curmudgeon is to a bachelor as sharp Cheddar is to milk. But as long as a bachelor is trying to please women, he cannot fully engage in these anti-feminine behaviors and may never ripen into a proper curmudgeon. The best policy for curmudgeons with women is distant and awkward courtesy. Unfortunately, sometimes women find this charming. Rudeness is safer, though it must be an impersonal rudeness - a curmudgeon is never personal, even in insults.

You would think women would hate curmudgeons. Some do, but as mentioned, some find them charming, and most women look at a curmudgeon as a man looks at a dilapidated house: a perfect candidate for a construction project.

It is possible for a curmudgeon to marry, but it does raise questions of whether he is hard enough to live with, if someone is actually putting up with him. If the wife seems surly, bitter, and not inclined to talk with him, he is probably doing well enough. If the wife is apparently quite happy with him, she'd better also be apparently someone who can go through life without ever hearing romantic talk.

Many curmudgeons got that way by becoming widowers, so a happily married man can always aspire to curmudgeonliness by outliving his wife. Then the proper state of squalor about the house can be achieved, and it is also easy to be impersonally rude to all those other women who think they could make him happy,

Pets for Curmudgeons

It should be obvious by now that the only proper pet for a curmudgeon is a dog, and not a poodle named Frou Frou. A dog is allowed to love a curmudgeon, because dogs are known for being devoted to people nobody else can stand. A German Shepherd would be appropriate, or maybe a bulldog. The point to remember is the dog should contribute to, rather than distract from, the curmudgeon's overall impression of disagreeability. If the dog itself is too scary, people will pay attention to the dog rather than the owner.

Suitable Curmudgeon Pet

A curmudgeonly cur, appearing potentially but not personally vicious.

A curmudgeonly cur, appearing potentially but not personally vicious.

Attending Social Events as a Curmudgeon

Sometimes even curmudgeons are made to be social, at weddings and Christmas parties and things like that where everyone is invited and not showing up would associate you with some foolish young people who are slackers.

Remember, nobody can make you be social, the worst they can do is make you show up. After that, you can always stand or sit in a corner by yourself and tell everyone who comes near why they should learn Latin. Or just create an unoccupied space around you by the sheer force of your personality, or possibly your smell since, as everyone in medieval times knew, baths are unhealthy.

Female Counterparts to Curmudgeons

I'm sorry, you just cannot be a curmudgeon and be female. Proper curmudgeonly behavior fits in well with what a typical man is inclined to do, and not with what a typical woman is inclined to do (such as talk, write, or otherwise communicate.) There are maybe some female equivalents for curmudgeons, but after all, how many women aspire to beetling eyebrows and hair growing out of their ears? So don't get offended.

The female equivalent is pretty much any bossy, somewhat elderly woman, who talks a lot, but only to explain her opinions and order people around, not to communicate. She could be fashionable, as long as the fashion is from at least 40 years ago. Like a curmudgeon, the female equivalent can even be rather lovable, and essential to the character of the neighborhood. One example would be the general's housekeeper in the old movie "White Christmas".

Much as "spinster" should be equivalent to but ends up less complimentary than "bachelor", the terms for the female counterpart of a curmudgeon are old-fashioned and rather unpleasant, words like "battleaxe", "old biddy", and "harridan". This is not because people are inherently prejudiced against women; it is because people are inherently prejudiced against being told what to do, and curmudgeons have more of a "take-it-or-leave-it" attitude when they tell people what to do.

Note that female equivalents to curmudgeons and curmudgeons themselves are not likely to be married to each other. They might quietly admire each other, and publicly insult each other, but they know each other's qualities too well to have any intention of living with each other.

Men, Women, and Curmudgeons

This table shows why there is unlikely to be a feminist movement demanding equal rights in curmudgeonry for women.

Characteristics:Disfavors CommunicationGruffHair in Ears, Not on HeadElderlySocial Liability


Not at all, why would you think a thing like that? Is it a problem? Maybe we should discuss it over tea.

Maybe, but will get mad if you put it that way.

If so, will pay $$$ to hide it

Not about to admit it even if obvious

Will be depressed for months if you say so



Could be

Would rather you not point it out

Would rather you not point it out

Not overly concerned

Bachelor (ladies' man type)


Probably tries not to be

If so, will pay $ to hide it

Will admit it for purposes of getting out of something

Concerned if women think it's a problem







The Path to Curmudgeonry

Perhaps you, like my friend in college, aspire to curmudgeonry. The main thing you have to do is get old enough, but here are some things to practice along the way.

  1. Practice keeping a straight face whenever a joke is told.
  2. Cramp your style. You should never be footloose and fancy-free, nor walk with a swing or a spring in your step.
  3. Start now on off-putting hairstyles, in case you never achieve baldness.
  4. Try chewing on every word before you actually say it. Even if you don't get the right effect at first, it will at least look strange.
  5. See if you can grow a suitably bushy mustache yet. Even an unkempt beard takes away from the effect, though, so keep the chin down to stubble.
  6. Smoke, sing from the wrong part of your throat, and seek out other such strategies to develop a raspy voice.
  7. Listen to music (opera, polka, or anything else old enough to be unpopular) at excessive levels to develop a hearing loss. Playing the Valkyrie theme loud enough to be heard all over the neighborhood will be good for your reputation.
  8. Attend a finishing school to learn how to be excruciatingly polite and have proper timing, which for a curmudgeon means being slightly off. Anyone trying to shake your hand should miss it, anyone trying to hug you should meet your shoulder instead.

Best wishes in your endeavor; remember the tradition you uphold as a curmudgeon is an ancient and proud one.


Jim Henderson from Hattiesburg, Mississippi on April 26, 2020:

Let me tell you what I think, Harrumph!

Oh? Excuse me. I'm practicing to be a curmudgeon. Very helpful points on the path to curmugeonry.

Great hub. Thanks ...or should I say harrumph again?

aethelthryth (author) from American Southwest on May 01, 2017:

Pam Bensen, you have definitely challenged me, and I know better than to argue with a curmudgeon, so I will just say there is a possibility all your points are correct. I may have to write another article about female equivalents to curmudgeons for whom the name just doesn't quite fit (but then, nothing fits a proper curmudgeon...). Queen Elizabeth I did indeed have many wonderfully curmudgeonly characteristics. The current Queen Elizabeth is seen as far too nice and classy and a bit too fearful of public opinion to have a war with a half-sister or anything like that. Then there is Queen Victoria's "We are not amused," a useful statement that would not sound gruff enough from a man, but for a woman illustrates a certain assumption of personal correctness that is essential. I think there must be something in queenhood or female-prime-ministerhood that works well with curmudgeonry. I will have to explore that thought. In any case, thank you for your valuable service to society in working to defeat the prejudice against being told what to do.

Pam Bensen on May 01, 2017:

I have just been honored as the first female recipient of the American College of Emergency Physicians Council Curmudgeon award for offering “a sense of reality, honesty, focus, and practicality, but without the usual personal encumbrance of political correctness, undue sensibility, or inhibition.” And, although I am sure I also meet some of your criteria as a bossy, somewhat elderly woman, who talks a lot, but only to explain her opinions and order people around, I do try to communicate (my ideas). However, I was never fashionable, even 40 years ago; and I love being compared to Emma Allen (aka Mary Wickes) the general's housekeeper in the old (! only to those of you too young to remember black and white 3 network TV) movie "White Christmas".

Since I have not been a spinster for 51 years I guess I am an old-fashioned, rather unpleasant, "battleaxe", "old biddy", and "harridan" [a strict, bossy, or belligerent old woman.

"a bullying old harridan" [shrew, termagant (a harsh-tempered or overbearing woman), virago (female warrior), harpy, vixen, nag, hag, crone, dragon, ogress].

I resent that people are inherently prejudiced against being told what to do (when it is obviously the right thing to do), and never have more of a "take-it-or-leave-it" attitude when I tell people what to do. I want them to take it and do it!

Note that this female curmudgeon is married to the Grumpy-Grinch [by the way I think you left Grumpy, Fiona, and Hank the octo (septa) pus out of your list]. We publicly admire each other, and quietly insult each other and, because we know each other's qualities too well, we intent to continue living with each other (no one else will put up with us).

On the female side, Google Queen Elizabeth (frown image); Golda Meyer;

aethelthryth (author) from American Southwest on October 25, 2016:

mcylkowski, you are a great example of how to wear the title with pride. You could have lost some points by using the term "honey", but having a daughter who would tell you to your face that you are a curmudgeon is at least double credit.

I think curmunchkins are a subset of curmudgeons; the ones who wear mostly blue clothes.

mcylkowski on July 15, 2016:

Too funny. Several years ago my granddaughter asked me what a curmunchkin was. I asked her where she had heard the term. She said, "Mama says Grandpa's a curmunchkin." I replied, "Oh, honey I think she meant Curmudgeon." My daughter who was sitting listening had turned bright red said, "C'mon dad, you are."

Well now I have a good answer for my granddaughters question. Thank you. I wear the term proudly knowing I'm in good company.

aethelthryth (author) from American Southwest on November 19, 2014:

Jeannieinabottle, you have some promising characteristics, but you get along with people way too well, besides the fact that you are too feminine. You're going to have to cut down on your diplomacy in answering some of the comments on your Hub. Remember, you don't need readers anyway, if they don't know what's good for them!

Also remember that in order to yell at kids to get off your lawn, you need to have kids on your street. The only kids messing up my lawn are my own, and yelling at them doesn't have the same effect.

Jeannie Marie from Baltimore, MD on November 15, 2014:

Being a curmudgeon sounds like fun. I might aspire to be one, too. I do have some years to go before I give it a go, but one day, I hope to yell at kids to get off my lawn.

Dale Anderson from The High Seas on August 25, 2014:

lol I fear to think!

aethelthryth (author) from American Southwest on August 25, 2014:

GetitScene, you make me want to provide some updates on some now fortyish college friends, and their curmudgeonly exploits. But some of those exploits are a bit too spectacular to wish to be publicly associated with, so I'll keep quiet.

Dale Anderson from The High Seas on August 23, 2014:

I know him! And he is very proud of being a curmdgeon btw. Sailed many a mile with him.

aethelthryth (author) from American Southwest on March 07, 2013:

Thank you, savvydating. Of course, the specific haircut style is less important than the attitude that "my haircut is exactly what I intended it to be."

Yves on March 06, 2013:

This hub is hilarious! I have an uncle who is a curmudgeon, but with a better haircut. So maybe he is only 85% curmudgeonly. Maybe he's still working on it. ... Frankly, he cracks me up, but I wouldn't feel that way if I had to live with him. And yes, I do think he's proud of his anti social ways. Voting up and awesome

aethelthryth (author) from American Southwest on February 13, 2013:

billd01603, thank you. There are many real-life curmudgeons around even today. In fact, I have recently been questioned about characteristics of Asperger's Syndrome. So for the record I will say that though there are some commonalities, a syndrome means it was not your own idea to be that way. Curmudgeons are proud of who they are, and worked hard to get that way.

billd01603 from Worcester on February 13, 2013:

Very funny HUB! Ebenezer Scrooge is the first person I think of when I think of a curmudgeon. Voted up and funny! Thanks for making my day.

aethelthryth (author) from American Southwest on June 06, 2012:

LadyAyres, I think that is a very astute observation. I am personally familiar with such behavior.

LadyAyres on June 06, 2012:

I've always wondered at how God has us leave the world much the same way as He has us come in to it. I think the Curmudgeon would represent the opposite 'age/ development spectrum' 2 year old. This occurred to me when a particular 2 year old stiff-armed me while saying "no," for trying to add more brown sugar to his oatmeal, and then gave me one grunt of approval, and continued pouting.

aethelthryth (author) from American Southwest on June 06, 2012:

RJ68 - you got it!

Kieran Gracie - I think my friend who started the whole discussion back in college will be reading this and may pick up some pointers from your comment.

RJ68 from Memphis on June 06, 2012:

Just sounds like a person who is a social introvert - rather be left alone. :)

Kieran Gracie on June 06, 2012:

How can a woman as young and obviously inexperienced in real life know anything about what us senior citizens know? You need to get at least another 30 years under your belt to at least begin to qualify. Now, as I was saying to that old battleaxe down the road the other day, if only she would listen.....

aethelthryth (author) from American Southwest on June 05, 2012:

Thank you for your contribution, CMCastro! I can't believe I forgot about Mr. Wilson. And since you obviously understand the concept, I imagine Arthur is one too, though I haven't seen that show.

Christina M. Castro from Baltimore,MD USA on June 05, 2012:

I thought I was a very informed adult to be aware of all sorts of people, but this is the Very first time I have ever heard of "curmudgeonly" people! But if you ask me two examples of whom could fit to describe this kind of person, it would be Arthur, the cranky father-in-law on "King of Queens", and Mr Wilson on the original "Dennis the Menace". What do you think?

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