Printable Version
Pronunciation: tem-pêr-êt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Mild, moderate, not extreme in any sense, as a temperate climate or a temperate demeanor. 2. Exercising restraint, as temperate in one's eating or drinking.

Notes: Today's Good Word is an adjective based on the noun temper, itself referring to an extreme lack of restraint. So how did that happen? The original meaning of temper, which it still retains, is "the state of the emotions", so people may be of a mild, sociable or irritable temper. The verb temper also has a neutral sense, roughly, "to bring to an ideal state", so that "to temper clay with water" means to soften it, while tempering steel strengthens it. The noun is, of course, temperance, the name of the movement to reduce or eliminate alcoholic beverages around the world, the so-called 'Temperance Movement'.

In Play: Our Greek cultural ancestors taught us temperance and moderation in all (the Golden Mean): "If Jack Potts were as temperate in his gambling habits as he is in his work habits, he could live a more happily balanced life." I tend to be more temperate in temperate weather but my temper tends to rise with the temperature.

Word History: Temperate comes to us from Latin temperatus, the past participle of temperare "to temper, to moderate". This verb is apparently derived from a variant of tempus (tempor- with suffixes) "time, season", though the semantic trail is not at all a clear one. There might be a connection between temp- and ten- "stretch", which gave us our thin and Russian tyanut' "to extend". To change the sound [n] to [m], however, would require a suffix [p], but there is no evidence that Latin contained such a suffix.

Dr. Goodword,

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