SHANE’S EXCELLENT NEW WORDS: “Palmer’s as dour as a door-nail; an obstinate chap, every inch on him,— th’ oud bulldog!”


The title quote is from Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel North and South (1855), though not quite verbatim. Let’s look at the word “dour” in a sentence.

“But honestly, you really just aren’t that amusing. Just dour, negative and usually passive/aggressive.”

It’s a scathing indictment, but we’re not here to determine this particular statement’s validity (hint: it’s a non-fact, at least in this specific context). Rather, how do we actually pronounce this word?

A dour pronunciation (The Grammarphobia Blog)

Q: How do you pronounce “dour”? Does it have an OO or an OW sound?

A: These days, “dour” can properly be pronounced either way, to rhyme with “tour” or “tower.” But it wasn’t always so.

I’ve always rhymed dour with sour. Just last night, I was watching a documentary in which a Brit used the OO variant. Digging a bit deeper …

English probably got “dour” from the Latin durus (hard), which may have influenced the traditional pronunciation.

The English word first showed in the 15th century, according to citations in the Oxford English Dictionary.

But the Chambers Dictionary of Etymology says it appeared a century earlier in Scottish and northern English dialects.

Here’s the definition. As always, it’s helpful to say what you mean, and mean what you say.


[doo r, douuh r, dou-er]


1. sullen; gloomy: The captain’s dour look depressed us all.
2. severe; stern: His dour criticism made us regret having undertaken the job.
3. Scot. (of land) barren; rocky, infertile, or otherwise difficult or impossible to cultivate.

Origin of dour

1325-75; Middle English < Latin dūrus dure1

Related forms

dourly, adverb
dourness, noun

Synonyms: morose, sour, moody.

I’d like to see the city enforce a policy of double secret probation for misuse of this and other words, though probably some hotshot lawyer in an expensive suit would file some sort of injunction.