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obstinacy vs. obstinancy

I’ve seen both of these words used to describe a person’s stubbornness. Obstinacy seeming to come from obstinate, and obstinancy seeming to derive from obstinant. Which is the correct form of the word, and is there some sort of subtle difference between the two?

  • August 5, 2009
  • Posted by jayd
  • Filed in Usage

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are you sure there is a word "obstinancy"?

bukaevalek August 5, 2009 @ 9:11AM

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Obstinancy is not a word. It should be obstinance which can be compared to obstinacy. Interestingly, obstinant is not listed in some dictionaries and in others, shown as non-preferred. Obstinateness is also listed as a noun form. As is usually the case with examples like this, there is much overlap; obstinacy and obstinance can often be used interchangeably. There are some subtle differences though. For example, a particular act of obstinance would be called an obstinacy. Example:

"Heather, you are a very stubborn person!"
"Oh really? Exactly what obstinacy have I commited that has so offended you?

porsche August 5, 2009 @ 1:07PM

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oops, that's ...committed...

porsche August 5, 2009 @ 4:24PM

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1839 Charles Dickens "Oliver Twist" use of obstinancy

Obstinancy is a word, according to Charles Dickens

crys August 6, 2009 @ 2:32AM

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Of course "obstinancy" is a word. Dickens used it, and it has 3 cites in the OED, and it's in 811 books on Google Books.

goofy August 6, 2009 @ 4:53PM

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@crysh - your example from Dickens uses obstinacy, not obstinancy.

tina.reddington August 18, 2009 @ 5:56PM

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Whether Dickens used "obstinacy" or "obstinancy" is immaterial. "Obstinate" is an adjective derived from the Latin "obstinatus," which is the past participle of "obstinare," meaning "to be resolved." Related forms of the word are "obstinacy" (noun). "obstinately" (adverb), and "obstinateness" (noun), all derived from the same Latin root. "Obstinancy" is a corruption, and makes no more sense than does "abstinency."

I do not agree that obstinacy and obstinance are interchangeable, particularly since the latter is not properly a word: the word is "obstinateness." Nor are "obstinacy" and "obstinateness" always interchangeable. The difference is subtle:

"John refused to agree through sheer obstinacy."

"John's obstinateness would not allow him to agree."

If the words "obstinacy" and "obstinateness" are swapped each sentence suffers, particularly the first.

douglas.bryant August 19, 2009 @ 6:42PM

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douglas, I've provided evidence that "obstinancy" is a word. Where is your evidence that it is not a word?

goofy August 19, 2009 @ 7:16PM

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You are correct that "obstinancy" is used in 811 "Google Books." However, "obstinacy" is used in 19,500 of them. That others have used a word does not prove it to be correct. Millions use "irregardless," regardless of the fact that is not a word., Webster Ninth Collegiate Dictionary, Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, and Encyclopædia Britannica's online dictionary all exclude "obstinancy."

"Obstinancy" is what Bryan A. Garner (A Dictionary of American Usage) would call a Needless Variant: "two or more forms of the same word without nuance or differentiation." Since there is already a noun "obstinacy" there is no purpose -- no nuance or differentiation -- to adding another.

The problem with needless variants is that the reader or listener is apt to wonder about the intended meaning, especially if unsure of the correctness of the word in question. Clarity suffers.

douglas.bryant August 19, 2009 @ 8:19PM

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You might be right that some people don't like the word, but that's irrelevant to whether or not it's a word.

Of course "irregardless" is also a word. It's in more dictionaries that "obstinancy"!

I don't see how clarity suffers. The meaning of "obstinancy" is completely clear. You said that the listener might be unsure of the correctness, but that's not the same as lack of clarity.

goofy August 19, 2009 @ 9:23PM

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My point about clarity is simple. Those who understand that "obstinacy" is the standard word will rankle at "obstinancy." Whatever follows will be greeted with skepticism. Others will be unaffected. They won't understand you, irregardless.

And it's not a matter of liking a word or not. I like the word "bling," but I wouldn't use it in my will: "To my niece Tabatha I leave all my bling. Cousin Winnie, you have been poned!" (I like "poned" too, in the right context.)

Sometimes new words bring new flavors of meaning, sometimes they are just more fun than the old words. But sometimes they are simply corruptions of existing words.

From Merriam-Webster:

* Main Entry: ir·re·gard·less
* Pronunciation: \?ir-i-?gärd-l?s\
* Function: adverb
* Etymology: probably blend of irrespective and regardless
* Date: circa 1912

nonstandard : regardless
usage: Irregardless originated in dialectal American speech in the early 20th century. Its fairly widespread use in speech called it to the attention of usage commentators as early as 1927. The most frequently repeated remark about it is that “there is no such word.” There is such a word, however. It is still used primarily in speech, although it can be found from time to time in edited prose. Its reputation has not risen over the years, and it is still a long way from general acceptance. Use regardless instead.


"Obstinancy" is of that ilk. Except that it is not an amalgam of words, with whatever modicum of legitimacy that imparts. It is little more than a misspelling.

Don't get me wrong: I am not a big fan of either "obstinacy" or "obstinateness." Both are better replaced by "stubbornness" in most cases. Why add "obstinancy" to an already crowded menu?

douglas.bryant August 19, 2009 @ 10:31PM

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You haven't really demonstrated that using "obstinancy" will cause people to not understand you. A common argument is that using nonstandard English leads to a lack of clarity, but I don't see it. The meaning of obstinancy, irregardless, even double negatives, etc, is clear. It might affect the opinion of the listeners, but that's a different matter.

All words are corruptions. "nice" is a corruption of Latin "nescius". "regardless" is a corruption of Latin "regardum" plus Old English "leas" - a hybrid combination of Latin and Germanic.

Anyway, my point is simply that "obstinancy" and "irregardless" are words, whatever anyone's opinions about whether they're standard, proper, or whatever. I'm not saying they're words you should use, but they're words.

goofy August 19, 2009 @ 10:45PM

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We don't disagree, entirely, on "obstinancy." You say it is a word, I say it is "is not properly a word," which leaves a little wiggle-room. Let's just agree that it's not standard English.

But I do maintain that nonstandard words lead to unclarity, not just because the words may be misunderstood, but because a reader or listener with knowledge of correct English will balk and bristle at the error and doubt the articulateness of the writer or speaker. Was that comminate or comminute? Impartable or impartible? A gaff or a gaffe? (I can stand the gaff.) At this point you have lost the attention and trust of the erudite, and entirely confused the rest.

douglas.bryant August 21, 2009 @ 6:18AM

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Douglas, the examples you give are spelling errors, not examples of nonstandard English. Sure, a spelling mistake could lead to ambiguity in some cases. But how does nonstandard English lead to ambiguity? If the reader isn't erudite enough to know that "obstinancy" is nonstandard, then how could they possibly be confused? And even if the reader is erudite enough to know that "obstinancy" is nonstandard, how could they be confused? There's no ambiguity or lack of clarity here. Bristling at the error and doubting the articulateness of the speaker is a different matter entirely.

goofy August 28, 2009 @ 10:33AM

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I gave not examples of misspellings, but of easily confused or misused words:

comminate: to denounce

comminute: to pulverize

impartable: able to be imparted

impartible: indivisible

gaff: a large hook or harsh treatment

gaffe: a faux pas

But my point remains this: the use of non-standard words erodes the credibility of the writer (or speaker). Perhaps "obstinancy" will one day supplant "obstinacy." Till that day, why risk credibility? Once people doubt that you know the meanings of the words you use they will doubt that you know what you are talking about. And that, my obstinate friend, cannot lead to clarity.

douglas.bryant August 29, 2009 @ 1:32AM

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I guess I wasn't clear enough. Easily confused or misused words are not the same as nonstandard English. Nonstandard English is a dialect of English that is not the standard. Using one word when you should have used a different one is a mistake. For instance, "ain't" is part of my dialect, so when I use it it's not a mistake. But writing comminate instead of comminute is mixing up one word for another, because they look so similar.

"Once people doubt that you know the meanings of the words you use they will doubt that you know what you are talking about. And that, my obstinate friend, cannot lead to clarity."

Mistakenly using one word for another does not mean you're using nonstandard English. There's no doubt that people who use nonstandard English know the meanings of the words they use. "ain't", double negatives, subject=position "X and me" are all nonstandard, and there's nothing ambiguous about them.

I don't actually know if "obstinancy" is nonstandard. It seems to be just an uncommon variant. Anyway, there's nothing inherently unclear about it. But I see your point, it can indirectly lead to a lack of clarity - not because of the words themselves, but because of the attitudes towards the words.

goofy August 29, 2009 @ 1:53AM

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John, It's amazing how closely we agree, yet still we debate. I never said that easily confused or misused words were the same as nonstandard ones. They ain't. But I see that you see my point, and so all is right in the world.

douglas.bryant August 29, 2009 @ 2:06AM

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What about compliance vs. compliancy? Consistency vs. consistence? Subsistence vs. subsistency? Personally, I would use the former in each case, but dictionaries list both.

porsche August 29, 2009 @ 12:01PM

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Oh, and I stand corrected. I was mistaken when I said obstinancy was not a word. I couldn't find it in a few dictionaries, but clearly it is in some, perhaps as nonstandard, but still a word, I suppose.

porsche August 29, 2009 @ 12:07PM

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'Obstinant' is not a word. It entered the language as a mispronunciation of obstinate (which is a word). Obstinacy is the noun form of obstinate. The word 'obstinancy' does not exist officially exist.

synerjizzm October 1, 2009 @ 6:03PM

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"The word ‘obstinancy’ does not officially exist."

Why do people persist in these weird beliefs even when presented with evidence to the contrary?

airaavat October 2, 2009 @ 12:08AM

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Obstinant does not fit in my crossword. Obstinate does. Phew!

raedmund July 2, 2010 @ 11:41PM

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The San Diego Zoo states on their website that obstinancy is the name for a group of buffalo. You have been served.

skaddoura September 28, 2011 @ 10:52AM

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The San Diego Zoo should have said that a group of buffalo is an obstinacy.

Billy Obvious January 1, 2012 @ 5:00PM

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Can anyone say "LIVING LANGUAGE"? Changes happen "irregardless" of how "obstinant" grammarians are.

Living Breathing August 16, 2012 @ 11:28AM

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Both words have near exact meanings; however, Obstinacy is a noun and Obstinate is an adjective, so the way you use these 2 words will differ.

Example #1: Obstinate

Obstinate and unyielding, the judge refused to give the defendant credit for time served. (Obstinate is an adjective. Adjectives describe nouns. Obstinate clearly describes the judge's unwillingness to give the defendant credit for time served.)

Example #2: Obstinacy

No matter what logic or rationale I used, nothing I came up with could break through her obstinacy. (You can see how obstinacy isn't an adjective. Simply replace Obstinate in the first example with Obstinacy and notice how off the sentence reads.

Obstinacy is a quality or trait, and we know a noun is a person, place, or thing. Well, a quality is a thing, making Obstinacy a noun.

P.S. I didn't write the sentences myself. I got them from this site. However, I did write the explanations. :)

Casper July 31, 2014 @ 3:02PM

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If it's in the OED then that's enough for me!

Hairy Scot July 31, 2014 @ 9:26PM

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"Obstinancy"is certainly in the OED, at least according to Wiktionary, but is listed as 'rare', and it is not listed in Oxford Online. In fact it is only listed in two of the many online dictionaries searched at 'OneLook'.

Incidentally it is very unlikely Dickens did use it, and especially not in "Oliver Twist" - in the First Edition of 1838, it reads -

"Come; you should know her better than me - wot does it mean ?” “ Obstinacy—woman's obstinacy, I suppose, my dear,” replied the Jew shrugging his shoulders."

Searching 19th century books at Google for "obstinancy" "Dickens" brings up only one result - "and little by little to make common cause on the one subject of Martin Chuzzlewit's obstinancy.". But it's not by Dickens, but by a pair of literary critics, the Littels.

Its use was always infinitesimal compared to that of its n-less cousin and seems to have peaked in the late eighteenth century. So, the word exists,yes, but its use is virtually non-existent.

But, remember this next time you're at pub quiz - skaddoura might be right about buffalo (and also bison). This is from 'The Smooth Guide to Animals and the English Language' - 'A gang, a herd, an obstinancy, a troop of bison' and the same for buffalo (but without 'gang'). This idea is repeated quite a lot round the web, but I can't find any reputable source for this.

Warsaw Will August 1, 2014 @ 1:03PM

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