What does the word thrawn mean?

Reading time: Just over 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: thrawn.

I read Kate Atkinson’s 1995 debut novel Behind the Scenes at the Museum more than a decade ago and it has remained one of my favourite books. I found it a funny, clever and sophisticated study of the English middle-class and it caused me to seek out subsequent Atkinson novels.

As a result, I also enjoyed Started Early, Took My Dog —  a detective novel — even though I don’t typically have much of a taste for the genre. Imagine my excitement, then, when I heard Atkinson had published a new, non-detective, book, Life After Life, with the intriguing premise that the main character dies many times, with each successive life a variation of the previous one. How would she handle that? I wondered.

The short answer is pretty well, although I did get a little weary of all the dying… The book also gave me my word of the week, thrawn. Here’s how Atkinson used it:

He still wore the same thrawn expression on his face as when he had left and gave her a brief “good night” that almost choked him as they climbed into bed. 

It turns out the word is Scottish and means perverse or ill-tempered (as is the face of the person shown in the photograph above.) It originates from Middle English — thrauen — which in turn comes front the Old English thrawan, meaning to throw.