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Pronunciation: hu-mê-rêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: No, this word isn't a blend of humor and moral. It is a medical term meaning "related to bodily fluids". It is still alive and kicking in the field of medicine and historical literature.

Notes: Humoral is the adjective accompanying humor or humour. Ancient and medieval medical practitioners believed that four humors or fluids of the body (blood, phlegm, choler (yellow bile), and melancholy (black bile) determine a person's state of health and temperament. That is how it came to be related to both humid and humorous. Humoralism refers to those still holding this belief, who may be called humoralists.

In Play: Today's word is most often used in historical contexts: "According to Galen, the Greek physician to the Roman emperors, plague was defined in terms of humoral imbalance in the body." However, the word is still active in modern medicine, especially in relation to serums or the immune system: "Cellular immunity is quite different from humoral immunity."

Word History: Middle English borrowed humor from Old French (h)umor "liquid, dampness", which it inherited from Latin umor "body fluid", the noun from umere "to be wet, moist". We are left to guess the origin of the Latin root. Using the PIE rules, we may reconstruct Proto-Indo-European uhrmo- "wet", which would relate it to urine, but even that would be problematic. The semantic migration from "liquid" to "funniness" is relatively clear. According to Etymonline, the French word gave humor an extended sense of "mood, state of mind", which was recorded in English from the 1520s. The sense of "funniness" was first recorded in the 1680s. Modern French humeur means "mood, spirits", not specifically a good mood. It also has humour "funniness", probably borrowed back from English. So, the meaning must have narrowed to "good mood" then "funniness" in Middle English.

Dr. Goodword,

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