at·​ra·​bil·​ious ˌa-trə-ˈbil-yəs How to pronounce atrabilious (audio)
: given to or marked by melancholy : gloomy
atrabiliousness noun

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Atrabilious is a somewhat rare word with a history that parallels that of the more common "melancholy." Representing one of the four bodily humors, from which it was once believed that human emotions originated, atrabilious derives from the Latin atra bilis, literally meaning "black bile." The word melancholy derives from the Greek melan- and chole, which also translates as "black bile." In its original sense, atrabilious meant "melancholy," but now it is more frequently used to describe someone with an irritable or unfriendly temperament. A word with a meaning similar to that of "atrabilious" is "splenetic," which is named after the organ in the body (the spleen) once thought to secrete black bile.

Word History


Latin atra bilis black bile

First Known Use

1651, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of atrabilious was in 1651


Dictionary Entries Near atrabilious

Cite this Entry

“Atrabilious.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Jun. 2024.

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