melancholia

noun

mel·​an·​cho·​lia ˌme-lən-ˈkō-lē-ə How to pronounce melancholia (audio)
1
: severe depression characterized especially by profound sadness and despair
Tense, irritable, I crashed into a fit of melancholia and found myself crying over inconsequential problems.Susan Wood
A depressed Johnson was not the father figure that Boswell, himself prey to … bouts of melancholia and insecurity, wanted to celebrate.Brooke Allen
2
: a sad quality or mood : melancholy
There's a touching melancholia to his voice …Ralph Novak
Like Wallace's breakthrough novel, "Infinite Jest," "The Pale King" is pervaded by an air of melancholia, an acute sense of loss.Tom McCarthy
melancholiac noun
plural melancholiacs

Did you know?

When is a word full of humor yet far from humorous? Melancholia traces back to Greek melan- ("black, dark") and cholē ("bile"). Medical practitioners once adhered to the system of humors—bodily fluids that included black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm. An imbalance of these humors was thought to lead to disorders of the mind and body. One suffering from an excess of black bile (believed to be secreted by the kidneys or spleen) could become sullen, unsociable, and liable to depression. Today, doctors no longer ascribe physical and mental disorders to disruptions of the four humors, but the word melancholia is still used in psychiatry as a general term for despondency.

Examples of melancholia in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web In this unorthodox history, Moon, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, casts aside the traditional, heroic portrait of the English ceramicist and entrepreneur Josiah Wedgwood and envisions the potter as a symbol of Britain’s post-colonial melancholia. The New Yorker, 5 Feb. 2024 Harnessing Nordic melancholia to laugh at the misery of capitalist malaise, Finnish master Aki Kaurismäki makes movies about people who don’t say much but feel plenty. Carlos Aguilar, Los Angeles Times, 22 Nov. 2023 The glimpse of her life as a mother and her melancholia come into play later in the show’s run. Yvonne Villarreal, Los Angeles Times, 13 Oct. 2023 Suffering from a wan melancholia that sits strangely on so strapping a dude, Nick eventually confesses his break-up, which rather ruins the mood of laddish hi-jinks. Jessica Kiang, Variety, 28 Sep. 2023 Its self-lacerating melancholia never dips into self-indulgence, instead digging into the shades of gray that define a person’s bleakest days. Maura Johnston, Rolling Stone, 25 Aug. 2023 Plant Albarn in any scenic location and the local culture, economy, and ecology seep in, mixing with his penchant for classic English melancholia and cascading over intricate productions in which international sensibilities collide. Craig Jenkins, Vulture, 21 July 2023 Almost a century later, the debates chronicled in Bruno Schulz, and even the book itself, feel somewhat neurotic—a perfect example of the melancholia that Freud described as mourning gone wrong. Adam Kirsch, The New Republic, 6 Apr. 2023 Cai, a correspondent for Vanity Fair, accomplishes this in part through the vacillating tone of Audrey’s narration, which swings wildly between hypervigilant repulsion — toward both the rural and the Chinese American aspects of her past — and self-sabotaging melancholia. Jenny Wu, Washington Post, 24 Jan. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'melancholia.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

borrowed from New Latin, going back to Late Latin, "preponderance of black bile" — more at melancholy entry 1

First Known Use

circa 1553, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of melancholia was circa 1553

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Cite this Entry

“Melancholia.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/melancholia. Accessed 15 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition

melancholia

noun
mel·​an·​cho·​lia ˌmel-ən-ˈkō-lē-ə How to pronounce melancholia (audio)
: a mental condition marked especially by extreme depression

Medical Definition

melancholia

noun
mel·​an·​cho·​lia ˌmel-ən-ˈkō-lē-ə How to pronounce melancholia (audio)
: severe depression characterized especially by profound sadness and despair
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