bad-tempered and unfriendly





This word was originally a variant of the obsolete and rare adjective sirly, composed of the noun sir and the suffix -ly, and meaning sir-like, lordly, hence haughty, imperious (it is similar to German herrisch, imperious, from Herr, lordsir). The word sirly is first recorded, used as an adverb, in The Romance of William of Palerne (circa 1350):

Now william on his sterne stede now stifli forþ rides,
so serreli þurth þe cite.
Now William on his stern [= brave] steed now stiffly [= resolutely] forth rides,
So sirly [= lordly] through the city.

In Manipulus Vocabulorum (1570), a dictionary of English and Latin words, Peter Levens (floruit 1552-87) translated serly [= sirly] as imperiosus.

The variant form surly first appeared, in the sense of lordly, majestic, in A medicinable morall, that is, the two bookes of Horace his satyres (1566), a translation of Horace’s Satires by the English poet and Church of England clergyman Thomas Drant (circa 1540-1578):

Certes, a man shoulde scarse beleue,
how much this louelye wighte,
Whome others loue, doth loue him selfe,
how he doth decke, and dighte
His surlye corps in rytche aray.
Certes, a man should scarce believe,
How much this lovely wight,
Whom others love, does love himself,
How he does deck, and dight [= dress]
His surly corpse [= body] in rich array.

Like sirly, surly was used to mean haughty, as in the following passage from a letter that the English author Gabriel Harvey (circa 1552-1631) wrote on 21st March 1573 to the English academic and bishop John Young (circa 1532-1605):

I have not shoun mi self so surli towards mi inferiors as M. Nevil hath shoun him self disdainful towards his œquals and superiors too.

In The Life and Death of Julius Caesar (around 1599), the English dramatist and poet William Shakespeare (1564-1616) used surly as an adverb meaning haughtily:

Against the Capitol I met a lion,
Who glared upon me, and went surly by,
Without annoying me.

The same author used surly as an adjective meaning gloomy in Sonnet LXXI:

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell.

The current sense of surly was first mentioned by John Ray (1627-1705) in A Collection of English Proverbs (1670):

As surly as a butchers dog.

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