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Welcome to Weird Word Wednesday! Today’s word is atrabilious, pronounced “a-truh-bil-yuhs.” It’s an old Latin word, whose roots are a combination of “black bile + ous.” Not very appealing…

Hippocrates, black bile, four humors, melancholia, gloomy, sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric


According to the dictionary, atrabilious means “marked by melancholy” or “ill-natured; peevish.”

But let’s talk about the “black bile” for a minute – when Hippocrates (born in about 460 BC) studied the human body, he devised the idea of “humors” that formed temperament and behavior. These four elements, which Hippocrates considered liquids, included blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. Personality types were thought to be caused by a dominance of one type of “humor”; ¬†therefore, melancholy people had an abundance of black bile in their systems.

This theory has since been tossed out the window, but we still use words from that time to describe personality types: melancholy, sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic.

I watched “A Christmas Carol” over the holidays, with Ebenezer Scrooge, the ill-natured, peevish main character of Charles Dickens’s tale, played to perfection by the late George C. Scott. Scrooge was a model of atrabiliousness.

Gertrude’s atrabilious behavior frightened the other residents of Sunset Hills grouchy old woman with a sour attitude frightens residents of a local retirement community with her atrabilious behaviorRetirement Community, forcing them to hold their Bingo Tournament when they knew she’d be at the doctor’s office.

Here’s wishing you a day free of the Gertrudes of this world!