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AWADmail Issue 364

June 21, 2009

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Tidbits about Words and Language

From: Rudy Rosenberg Sr (rrosenbergsr accuratechemical.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--choleric
Def: Easily irritated or angered; hot-tempered.

Was ever woman in such humor wooed?
Was ever woman in such humor won?
I shall have her
But I won't keep her long.

(To paraphrase Shakespeare)

From: Barbara Jungbauer (barbaraj probuiltam.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--sanguine
Def: 1. Cheerfully optimistic or confident. 2. Having a healthy reddish color. 3. Blood-red.

For eight or so years now, I've not been able to hear the word 'sanguine' without thinking of this exchange in my very favorite program of all time, a short-lived science-fiction, western, adventure, comedy program called, "Firefly".

Zoë: You sanguine about the kinda reception we're apt to receive on an Alliance ship, Captain?
Mal: Absolutely. What's "sanguine" mean?
Zoë: Sanguine. Hopeful. Plus, point of interest, it also means "bloody".
Mal: Well, that pretty much covers all the options, don't it?

From: Shweta Bhat (shwetapbhat gmail.com)
Subject: sanguine

It now feels apt that a vampire in the book Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is named Sanguin.

From: Lekha Warrior (lekhawarrior gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--sanguine

I live in Brussels, where French is spoken, and in this language Sanguine also works as an adjective to describe a person who gets angry very fast and shows her anger.

From: Daithí Ryder (ryder cloonliffen.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--melancholic
Def: 1. Gloomy; wistful. 2. Saddening. 3. Of or related to melancholia.

Some method actors try to look sad, but poor Mel Gibson tells the story that when he played Hamlet, he brought a sheepdog with him on set, so people would say there goes Mel and Collie.

From: K. S. R. (huckabone frontiernet.net)
Subject: melancholic

My grandmother's death certificate lists "melancholia" as the cause of death. Although it is not very practical information for family medical history, it always gives those institutional forms a whiff of romance.

From: Mike Pope (mpope microsoft.com)
Subject: Choleric et al

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.

The details have changed, but in many ways we haven't substantially changed this thinking. Instead of worrying about the balance of choler and phlegm, however, we talk about our levels of good and bad cholesterol, or we obsess about hydrating or sodium content. Most of us presume (but don't necessarily know) that the professional medical community has better reasons for gauging the levels of these various fluids (etc.) than of measuring our balance of humors, but for the average layman, the veneer of medical legitimacy associated with the scientific names of these magical substances is thin indeed, and the advice from a medical professional to watch sodium and cut down on sugar might as well, for most people, be advice to keep the essential fluids in balance.

Any doubts one might have about people's willingness to believe in the medical powers of magical substances could be put to rest by a wander down the supplements aisle of any supermarket or drug store. We might defer to the medical expertise of the doctor who tells us to watch our cholesterol levels, but if we read an article in a magazine somewhere that touts the wonders of, say, valerium or melatonin, we are as open to persuasion as anyone in ancient times ever was to an explanation of a choleric or phlegmatic disposition. To say nothing, of course, of MAOIs, TCAs, SSRIs, and similar modern-day ways to balance one's humor.

From: Marnee Madsen (naturalpetmedicine gmail.com)
Subject: Humors

Ancient metaphoric medical theories that included our relationship to nature, bodily fluids and temperament actually are quite effective... the four humors an underdeveloped version of what the Chinese and Indian cultures had developed for thousands of years and what is found in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. As someone who practiced Western medicine for years, I find the traditional/ancient medical theories much more effective.

From: Raju Parekh (urjani2000 yahoo.com)
Subject: Ayurveda

How could you forget Ayurvedic practice when you mentioned ancient medical practice? Ayurveda was the first to suggest the equilibrium between the body fluids and the outside environment.

From: Laura Kennedy (mercuryl pacbell.net)
Subject: The Temperaments

My three children went to a Waldorf school. Waldorf uses the temperaments as one of its many child-management tools. For instance, children of like temperament are often seated together, so that they can "see themselves" and develop accordingly. It works better to have a choleric kid bumping heads with another choleric kid instead of with a weepy melancholic. The phlegs bore one another into action. The melans get fed up with one another's whining. The sanguines have to learn to tamp down the chatter to get anything done.

My children are: Phlegmatic, Melancholic, and Sanguine-Choleric, so I got to experience four temperaments in three kids. Deciding what to do on a family outing was an interesting experience, I can tell you.

From: Laura Fernandez (lafern2001 yahoo.com)
Subject: The Four Humors

After the word humor spent almost 18 centuries as a diagnostic term, describing the balance of the body fluids, it jumped ship in the 16th century, and became a word for something amusing, or comical.

During the Renaissance, writers such as Shakespeare wrote plays whose characters were based on the four humors (or temperaments). Audiences recognized these four archetypes (ex. Hamlet, Kate, Puck, Ophelia) and were moved and entertained by them, whether the character in question had their humors in balance or not. These plays were soon called humoresques and gave way to the new meaning of humor, first mentioned in its new usage in the Oxford English Dictionary, in 1702.

While we no longer use the vague medical science of the humors, it is worth realizing that the qualities of the humors and the elements they each represent, cannot only be negative. They have the entire elemental spectrum in each of them.

It follows that to live one's own individual brand of humor, to enjoy and accept it, means that one is in one's very own flow, one is humorous.

The melancholic Buster Keaton, the phlegmatic Jack Benny, the sanguinic Robin Williams, the choleric Sam Kineson; each of these harnesses his own brand of humor and move us towards reflecting on our own.

The four humors are often used to represent four individuals of a group, who together form a whole. Think John, Paul, George, and Ringo; Lucy, Desi, Ethel, and Fred; Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion; Ravenclaw, Slytherin, Griffendor, and Hufflepuff; Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.

From: Andrew Kay (andrew.kay sharp.co.uk)
Subject: The Four Humours

Since your medical words subject for the week seems to (almost) coincide with my comic subject #23, I decided to bring publication of this one forward specially for AWAD readers, as a thank you for all those years of words.

Words are a mirror of their times. By looking at the areas in which the vocabulary of a language is expanding fastest in a given period, we can form a fairly accurate impression of the chief preoccupations of society at that time and the points at which the boundaries of human endeavour are being advanced. -John Ayto, lexicographer (b. 1949)

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