Printable Version
Pronunciation: fleg--tik Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective, Noun

Meaning: 1. Related to phlegm (mucus), phlegmy. 2. Calm in temperament, dispassionate, unemotional, apathetic.

Notes: Today we look at another English word derived from the ancient Hippocratic humors of the body. An excess of mucus or phlegm in the body was associated with wet, cold winter, and with those same characteristics in human nature. The adverb for this word is phlegmatically and the noun, phlegmatism. A phlegmatic person is a phlegmatist or just a phlegmatic.

In Play: You probably shouldn't talk about phlegmatic noses when runny noses will do; phlegmatic in this sense is a bit dated. However, in the second sense above, it is readily available even today: "I'm not sanguine about your receiving a raise this year, Anita; the boss reacted to the suggestion rather phlegmatically." This word very neatly replaces three English words: calm, cool, and collected: "When the toilet exploded in the men's room, only Arnold remained phlegmatic and remained at his desk."

Word History: Today's Good Word was spelled fleumatik in Middle English, borrowed from Old French fleumatique, inherited from Late Latin phlegmaticus "full of phlegm". Toward the end of Middle English, the spelling was changed to the original Latin, with a PH replacing the initial F and the reinsertion of the G. Latin borrowed its word from Greek phlegmatikos, the adjective of phlegma(t) "heat, phlegm", derived from phlegein "to burn". The original Proto-Indo-European root behind this word, bhel- "shine brightly", also ended up as the initial consonants in English blind, blond and blue. The initial [bh] became [f] in such Latin words as flagrare "to blaze", which went on to become flagrant, conflagration, and flambe in French.

Dr. Goodword,

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