• saturnine •
sæt-êr-nain • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Having the humor or personality of someone born under the influence of the planet Saturn: depressed, gloomy, pessimistic, and a bit grumpy. 2. Containing or otherwise related to lead (see Word History).
Notes: Although the noun from which today's Good Word is derived, Saturn, is always capitalized, this adjective is not. It does come replete with an adverb, saturninely, and a noun, saturninity.
In Play: Today's word usually refers to a humor that we cannot escape: "That saturnine old goat, Willis Mile, doesn't even return a civil greeting in the morning." It can, however, be a passing mood caused by an unexpected event: "Gladys Dunn has been a bit saturnine since her boyfriend left her for the weight-lifter, but she still gets her work done."
Word History: Today's Good Word is an adjective made from the proper noun Saturn, taken from the name of the Latin god, Saturnus. Saturnus is another word of mysterious Etruscan origin (see histrionics for an explanation). The god Saturn is one of the oldest Roman gods, the god of agriculture and harvests. The second and most massive planet and the seventh day of the English week, Saturday, are named after him. In the Middle Ages Saturn became the technical name for lead. It was a time when 'sugar of Saturn' (white lead oxide) was sometimes added as a sweetener to the wine drunk from pewter cups. Saturnism remains a word for lead poisoning today. (We hope that today's very Good Word from James Stemwedel has chased away any saturnine inclinations you might have had today.)
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