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Jun 15, 2009
This week's theme
Medicinal words to describe people

This week's words
choleric
phlegmatic
sanguine
melancholic
bilious

Four temperaments
Four temperaments
Woodcut from Physiognomische Fragmente by Johann Kaspar Lavater, 1775

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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

Ancient medical practitioners believed that a healthy body had a balance of four essential fluids, also known as humors (from Latin humere: to be wet, which also gave us the word humid). Those humors were blood, yellow bile (aka choler), black bile, and phlegm. Each humor was associated with a season and an element (air, water, fire, and earth). An imbalance of humors was thought to cause a change in temperament or worse.

Thankfully, we have come a long way from that theory about the human body. We no longer use that method to diagnose people's conditions, though the terms live on in the language by being used as metaphors.

choleric

PRONUNCIATION:
(KAHL-uhr-ik)

MEANING:
adjective: Easily irritated or angered; hot-tempered.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Latin cholericus, from Greek cholerikos, from chole (bile). Ultimately from the Indo-European root ghel- (to shine) that is also the source of words such as yellow, gold, glimmer, gloaming, glimpse, glass, arsenic, and cholera.

USAGE:
"In every choleric outburst from Sir Alan, every lifted eyebrow and pursed lip from his lieutenants, the subtext is clear."
Libby Purves; The Apprentice; The Daily Telegraph (London, UK); Jun 6, 2009.

See more usage examples of choleric in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
Society is composed of two great classes: those who have more dinners than appetite, and those who have more appetite than dinners. -Sebastien-Roch-Nicolas de Chamfort, writer (1741-1794)

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