In a recent performance appraisal, where folks are invited to comment anonymously on what they think of me, someone described me as obstinate. Now here’s a word that the philosopher Bertrand Russell once described as an “irregular verb.” During an old BBC radio program, he offered the conjugation, “I am firm; you are obstinate; he is a pig-headed fool.”
Another example comes from the BBC’s Yes Minister series where the civil servant, Bernard Wooley says;
“That’s one of those irregular verbs, isn’t it? I give confidential security briefings. You leak. He has been charged under section 2a of the Official Secrets Act.”
It’s a great party game for the literati who prefer it to things like chugging a beer bong or seeing who can eat the most hot dogs in a minute. Well, maybe before chugging a beer bong or eating hot dogs.
It comes from the Latin obstinat-us, which means determined or stubborn, which is in turn a derivative of obstare, meaning to persist. However, although being persistent and determined could be seen as highly sought-after qualities, the connotation of obstinate has been negative.
The OED describes it as “pertinacious or stubborn in adhering to one’s own course; not yielding to argument, persuasion, or entreaty; inflexible, headstrong.” Phew, that’s quite a thing to say about someone!
It has been used as a noun in the 16th century, such as in the wonderful phrase, “Out of the bosome of these heretikes, rebelles, and obstinates.” However, I can’t say I have heard it used as such in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Of course, I ultimately don’t care too much about being called obstinate because my obstinacy is counter-balanced by my arrogance.