A reader declares:
I rankle Or get rankled when I hear someone, usually, an athlete, is ‘under rated’. What does this mean?
The question asks about the term underrated, but this post will focus mainly on rankle.
First, the verb underrate:
underrate: to estimate at too low a value or worth. Ex. Research shows men tend to overrate themselves and women underrate themselves.
Further explanation of underrate does not seem necessary. The reader is correct in the observation that the term is frequently used in reference to athletes. For example, a Google search brings up several lists of “the most underrated sports figures”:
10 Most Underrated Athletes of All Time
The 25 Most Underrated Sports Superstars of All Time
The List: Underrated all-time athletes
10 of the most underrated sports stars of all time
The 5 Most Underrated Athletes
The 25 Greatest Underrated NBA Players of All Time
Now, to rankle.
Taken into English from Old French, the verb rankle initially meant “to fester” or “to suppurate.” A wound that rankled was in the process of rotting. Over time, the word has dwindled in figurative use to mean to annoy or to irritate.
Rankle conveys a sense of ongoing emotional hurt or bitterness. The verb may be used transitively or intransitively. Here are examples of current use:
After less than three months on the job, LePage has already managed to rankle more constituencies with his bluntness than any Maine governor in recent memory.—Deseret News
Christie’s Cowboys Support Rankles Some New Jersey Residents—Wall Street Journal
My father didn’t get his due. That still rankles.—Shadaab Khan
$10 bill change rankles descendant of Alexander Hamilton—New York Times
[Rod] Serling was not just another freelancer and he rankled at the perceived affront to his work—Jeannot Szwarc
Are you rankled by your cankles? A new liposuction treatment may help—Daily Mail
Note: The word cankle is a new one on me. Word flags it as a misspelling. Cankle does not appear in the OED or on the Ngram Viewer, but Merriam-Webster offers a citation from The Philadelphia Inquirer dated 2001 and defines cankle as:
a wide, thick, or fat ankle that appears indistinguishable from the lower calf.
Cankle is a portmanteau: calf + ankle.
As for rankle, It’s a good word to convey a festering annoyance of long duration.