sat·​ur·​nine ˈsa-tər-ˌnīn How to pronounce saturnine (audio)
: born under or influenced astrologically by the planet Saturn
: cold and steady in mood : slow to act or change
: of a gloomy or surly disposition
: having a sardonic aspect
a saturnine smile

Did you know?

Eeyore is saturnine. The gloomy, cynical character of A. A. Milne's gray donkey typifies the personality type the ancient Romans ascribed to individuals born when the planet Saturn was rising in the heavens. Both the name of the planet and the adjective derive from the name of the Roman god of agriculture, who was often depicted as a bent old man with a stern, sluggish, and sullen nature. The Latin name for Saturn was Saturnus, which is assumed to have yielded the word Saturninus (meaning "of Saturn") in Medieval Latin; that form was adapted to create English saturnine in the 15th century.

Choose the Right Synonym for saturnine

sullen, glum, morose, surly, sulky, crabbed, saturnine, gloomy mean showing a forbidding or disagreeable mood.

sullen implies a silent ill humor and a refusal to be sociable.

remained sullen amid the festivities

glum suggests a silent dispiritedness.

a glum candidate left to ponder a stunning defeat

morose adds to glum an element of bitterness or misanthropy.

morose job seekers who are inured to rejection

surly implies gruffness and sullenness of speech or manner.

a typical surly teenager

sulky suggests childish resentment expressed in peevish sullenness.

grew sulky after every spat

crabbed applies to a forbidding morose harshness of manner.

the school's notoriously crabbed headmaster

saturnine describes a heavy forbidding aspect or suggests a bitter disposition.

a saturnine cynic always finding fault

gloomy implies a depression in mood making for seeming sullenness or glumness.

a gloomy mood ushered in by bad news

Example Sentences

He is saturnine in temperament. the men awaiting interrogation by the police shared a saturnine silence
Recent Examples on the Web The mood is too saturnine, the occasional nods to social criticism too stilted. Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic, 27 Jan. 2022

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'saturnine.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2b

Time Traveler
The first known use of saturnine was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near saturnine

Cite this Entry

“Saturnine.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition



sat·​ur·​nine ˈsat-ər-ˌnīn How to pronounce saturnine (audio)

Medical Definition



sat·​ur·​nine ˈsat-ər-ˌnīn How to pronounce saturnine (audio)
: of or relating to lead
: of, relating to, or produced by the absorption of lead into the system
saturnine poisoning
saturnine gout
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