The OED says this adjective derives from “obstreperous” and means the same thing, with some overtones, to wit: “bad-tempered, rebellious, awkward, unruly.” All the citations (starting in 1951) are from British sources, including John Burke’s novelization of the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.” (The word also appears, differently, in the screenplay by Alun Owen, a Liverpool writer. After Ringo complains to a little boy about being knocked over with a tire, the boy says, “Oh, don’t be so stroppy.”)

As this Google Ngram Viewer chart indicates, it’s indeed a Britishism:

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 10.29.16 AM

Also as the chart indicates, the word’s presence in the U.S. is minimal at the moment. I had to go through about 100 hits of a Google News search before I found an American use, from a July Boston Globe review of the Amy Winehouse documentary: “the early sequences of ‘Amy’ are heartbreaking in the way they capture a lumpy, stroppy North London girl who just about bursts into flame when she opens her mouth to sing.” Also in July, there was a USA Today story quoting (the British) Piers Morgan on rapper Nicki Minaj: “I experienced at first hand what a stroppy little piece of work she could be when she appeared as a guest act on ‘America’s Got Talent’ when I was still a judge on the show.”

Over at the New York Times, the word has mainly been in quotes by or attributions to British people. Otherwise, the last use was in a 2011 review of a Sarah Palin biography, in which–according to the reviewer, the feisty Jack Shafer–anonymous sources characterized Palin’s marriage as “bloodless and stroppy.” The same year, the Times quoted a song by the Topp Twins, lesbian singers from New Zealand: “We’re stroppy, we’re aggressive, we’ll take over the world.”

11 thoughts on ““Stroppy”

  1. This adjective has been ‘nouned’: it is commonplace in the UK to hear of someone being “in a strop”, meaning in a foul-tempered mood.
    I am delighted to see that you felt the need to explain to readers that Piers ‘moron’ Morgan is British. This is evidence that he is not ubiquitous in the US, as UK media had led me to believe.

    1. The noun ‘strop’ also means a rather old-fashioned device for sharpening or stropping a razor. My grandfather used to sharpen his cut-throat razor on a ‘strop’ – a length of belt-width leather on a hook on the bathroom wall. In fact, I always thought that ‘stroppy’ came from that – implying a sharp tongue and potential improvised weaponry.
      (Family folklore says that my dad, when a small boy, sneaked in, took the razor and nicked the strop all down both long edges. Once found out, he was beaten with it.)

  2. There’s also “to throw a strop” so you would say of someone who became quarrelsome or had a fit of temper “He threw a strop”.

  3. As a Canadian, I have long used the word stroppy, or more accurately have long had it used about me. Stroppy, in my youth, did not mean bad-tempered but rather aggressively impudent and challenging. “Don’t get stroppy with me, young lady.” was the not infrequent response to my assertive disagreements with my parents. And although I have always cherished Ringo’s conversation with Charlie in “A Hard Day’s Night”, it’s an exception to my observation that the word is usually used to describe young women.

  4. One of the nice things about that word is that it isn’t gendered – so many words describing angry people (particularly women) sadly are.

  5. I can remember my father – who was a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm during the Second World War – using ‘stroppy’ as long ago as 1948. I’m wondering if it might have started out as naval slang.

  6. I thought this was much more common in the U.S. than it actually is, probably because my circle of acquaintances includes folks who read or have read Irregular Webcomic (irregularwebcomic.net; see particularly 7.html and 118.html) One of the themes there is a parody (affectionately done) of Steve Irwin, and the Irregular Webcomic version of him says “‘E’s a bit stroppy!” almost as a signature line. The comic is by an Aussie, parodying an Aussie…but it’s such a useful term that I’ve adopted it myself. I admit, though, that I only use it while adopting an outrageously silly accent, which probably removes my personal style of usage from the NOOB category.

  7. I think of this as a fairly common American word, so I am clearly in the minority. And its meaning is to sass someone aggressively– in other words, not in the jokey way that might characterize sassing. The word also connotes that the stroppy person is behaving out of place for her/his circumstances. S/he does not have the right to behave and/or react that way and is over the line.

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