Become a Curmudgeon

Curmudgeons are usually cast as grumpy old men, along the lines of Walter Matthau or Andy Rooney. The truth is that they can be any gender or any age, though. It's a mindset! There are positives to being a curmudgeon, and they are necessary in any society. Here's how you can be one.


Having a Curmudgeon’s Personality

  1. Become an independent thinker, and go against the grain. Curmudgeons take pride in being contrarians. They don’t just take the popular positions or the easy ones. They aren’t scared to go against the grain.[1]
    • Most settings actually need contrarians, although they can ruffle feathers. Academia is one field that some experts believe has a lot of curmudgeons. Of course, if you have the job protection tenure affords, you can afford to risk being contrary to people in power.
    • Curmudgeons do not go along with the group in order to get along. They are willing to tick everyone off to voice their stance on an issue, even if they become unpopular as a result. The old Winston Churchill quote comes to mind: “You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
  2. Be a leader, not a follower of trends! Learn to think for yourself. If a popular media figure says something is great, you don't care for it. Curmudgeons don't need to have the newest gadget or the biggest house.
    • Curmudgeons are the setters of trends. They have their own minds, values, and trends. They are willing to be the one person wearing the bow tie in the group. Their dress often highlights the fact they stand outside the group.
    • Curmudgeons cultivate their individuality in literature, movies, and food, as well as dress. Above all, they stay true to their own likes. They aren't chameleons who adopt the interests of others or the whole.
  3. Focus on the greater good. At their best, curmudgeons can be the way they are because they are caring people working for a cause or to champion a set of principles. There is such a thing as a “lovable curmudgeon.” The kind of curmudgeon you should want to be is the grumpy guy (or gal) who’s willing to say what it takes to make things right even if he or she gets painted in a negative fashion as a result, but who does it for a greater good, not to harm someone else.
    • Deep down, many curmudgeons are caring people who put the interests of others first, and in fact think they are serving some greater good by complaining. They are willing to risk their jobs and reputations to advance values they hold dear. There is something admirable about that.
    • What curmudgeons are not is cruel. They don’t try to punish or hurt individuals; they are too busy warring against systems for that. They aren't mean. Grouchy? Yes. Cruel? No.
  4. Develop a sense of humor. Curmudgeons aren't always super serious. They can dominate a stage with a big, charismatic personality. They like attention.
    • Tell good stories. Work up some good short stories that tell about interesting experiences you've had or people you've known. Learn how to time them so they are never boring or repetitive. An ironic twist at the end is helpful.
    • Find the humor in at least five things you see every day. Smile or laugh and catch someone's eye to share the moment.
  5. Stay traditional, even when society changes around you. Curmudgeons are throwbacks. They are the guys who stick to the old ways as the world changes around them. Poke around the attic, garage or basement until you find that old thing you used to use, rather than buying something new.
    • You will see this in the way they dress. The typical curmudgeon wears a flannel shirt and grumpy old man hat. You don’t have to do this. Just be aware that you won’t find a curmudgeon acting slavish to a trend. They don’t care about “fitting in” or seeming modern. They might prefer vintage dress.
    • In terms of attitude and values, curmudgeons will stick to a core set of principles even if, at times, the world changes around them. Sometimes they advance the positions of their childhood. Curmudgeons know who they are and what they believe in. They aren't insecure.

Acting Like a Curmudgeon

  1. Avoid collaboration and being part of “the group.” Curmudgeons are known for rejecting collaboration, and civility is not always their strong suit. At the same time, curmudgeons will at times build alliances with friends and allies on the side.
    • With their own unique flair and pizzazz, curmudgeons will occupy the center stage with humor or sarcasm. They prefer a heated debate or engaging in lengthy discussion before reaching any consensus with others (if they ever do).
    • Curmudgeons sometimes style themselves as gadflies or whistle blowers who are willing to say things that other people dare not. Although this can make them very disliked, there are times when they spot things that are real problems. Thus, while written off as cranks sometimes, they can at times offer valuable advice to an institution by playing the role of constant devil’s advocate.
  2. Reject authority or at least don’t buy into the notion that authority is always right. Curmudgeons are the sort that constantly pokes at administrators or bosses. They don’t naturally accept that people are right just because they have ascended to power.
    • Sometimes curmudgeons become such because they have become outcasts or don’t belong to the internal network that produces leaders in an institution through “who you know.” They want to have a voice, and they think they have ideas to contribute, but they have no other way to make their voice heard.
    • At times, leaders aren’t doing a good job but everyone else fears confronting them. Curmudgeons are willing to call out problems that others look the other way on. The leaders may dismiss their complaints.
  3. Make sure you pick your battles. If you want to be a curmudgeon who plays an important role versus one who is a negative whiner, you should make sure you ground your complaints in knowledge.
    • Have legitimate and rational concerns when you do express your opinions. Don't go to war over everything or people will start tuning you out. Take a stand when you think it really matters.
    • Ground your complaints in evidence. If you back up what you say instead of just complaining all the time, you will be taken more seriously.
  4. Present a grumpy, or at least a serious vibe. Curmudgeons are not known for their joyous, happy or vibrant personalities. They are more likely to see the world through negative blinders.[2]
    • There are young curmudgeons. They are the kind of people that others deem to be “old souls.” They seem to have a window into aspects of the world that others miss as they go about their happy ways.
    • Even if curmudgeons do experience happiness and joy, they don’t wear those emotions on their sleeves. They’re introverted about sharing emotions, other than crabbiness or concern, although they periodically break that up with sarcastic humor.
  5. Show that you have standards. Curmudgeons stick to the rules, and they aren’t afraid to hold people to them. In a world where sometimes it seems like “anything goes,” curmudgeons aren’t afraid of hurting people’s feelings.
    • A memo from a curmudgeon might explain that they expect to see no grammatical or typographical errors in your text.[3]
    • They will likely present a lengthy list of rules. In fact, they will use rules as their key weapon. They will know the rules better than anyone else does. They sometimes overplay their hands, though. Still, at a law firm, a curmudgeon might justify his (or her) sticking to the rules because it’s important to win for a client. And you know what? They can be right.

Determine the Kind of Curmudgeon You Want to Be

  1. Figure out the kind of curmudgeon you are emulating. Some dictionaries say the word stems from the word crab and the word cur, which meant dog or a “disagreeable person” in Gaelic.[4]
    • Some of the definitions of curmudgeon are not positive. For example, a curmudgeon is defined at times as a “crusty, ill-tempered” old man. In popular culture, curmudgeons are typically older men with grouchy attitudes.[5]
    • However, not all definitions of the word are negative. For example, an alternative definition says curmudgeons are people with stubborn ideas or opinions. This might be laughed at by some, but it can be a strength at times. It's certainly necessary for any institution or society to have people willing to say what no one else will.
  2. Realize that sometimes grumpiness is camouflaging a medical issue. Studies show that curmudgeons are more likely to be males and over the age of 70 - although they do exist among all demographics. There are physiological changes that occur with age and that can cause a worsening of mood.
    • Sometimes men are really experiencing physical symptoms – like declining testosterone levels – that make them grumpier.[6] If you feel like a curmudgeon, but don’t want to be one, see a doctor. Maybe there is a medical issue that a doctor can address.
    • If you are feeling depressed on a constant basis, that’s not a good place to be. It’s different if you are choosing to be a curmudgeon and are happy in that state (even if you don’t show it). But if you are suffering signs of clinical depression, contact a doctor or therapist. There are many resources available to help you.
  3. Study famous curmudgeons to get a sense of how to do it with style. Start paying attention, and you will see curmudgeons in public life everywhere. They are a common character in movies and politics, for starters.
    • Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is sometimes considered a curmudgeon. This is because he will often play the iconoclast, and his contrary opinions are often filled with words that are designed to have an attention-getting flair. However, he has an underlying mission and stays true to his stated values - he wants to make a point about the problems with the majority decision. Curmudgeons consider themselves lonely arbiters of common sense – and sometimes they are right.[7]
    • Clint Eastwood in the movie “Gran Torino” is a curmudgeon. “Get off my lawn,” is his famous catchphrase. Walter Matthau is a curmudgeon in the movie “Grumpy Old Men.” Bill Murray in the movie "St. Vincent". Dana Carvey’s character “Grumpy Old Man” on Saturday Night Live is a curmudgeon.[8]


  • If you must smoke tobacco, make it a cigar or use a pipe.
  • Do not smell! Bathe regularly and do not use colognes. Nothing blows your effectiveness as a speaker more than bad or overwhelming odors!
  • Dress for comfort, but don't make it an excuse to wear dirty, sloppy or horrible looking clothes. You don't want to draw ridicule or negative attention.


  • Curmudgeons can look kind of pathetic on the dating scene, as they can be so out of touch as to send dates running out the back door. Get some advice from a kind friend before dating - on appropriate dress, behavior and conversation topics. It's ruthless out there!
  • You may lose friends when you stop agreeing with people all the time, but they are seldom friends you will miss much.
  • Not all curmudgeons are equal. There are some bitter ones, stupid ones, wise ones and sweet ones. Try to be the latter.
  • If you need to work for a living, you may need to tone down your curmudgeonly tendencies at work, or at least with the boss.
  • Some curmudgeons resort to punning - proceed at your own risk!
  • Do not get drunk. Nothing makes you stupid or mean faster than getting sloppy with your drinking.

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Sources and Citations