Merriam Webster Word of the Day: Bilious


The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is bilious. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Bilious has several meanings, including “angry or bad-tempered” and “sickeningly unpleasant to look at.” Its earliest use describes things that are “of or relating to bile.”

// The actor has come under fire for his bilious commentary. 

// The new homeowners immediately painted over the bilious color scheme.

BILIOUS in Context

“Inserting a character inspired by Big Daddy Pollitt in Tennessee Williams’s ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ into a scenario patched together from three William Faulkner works, Orson Welles so thoroughly dominates ‘The Long, Hot Summer’ as Will Varner, the bilious magnate of Mississippi small town, that the other actors struggle to make themselves known.” — Scott Tobias, The New York Times, 11 Oct. 2022

Did You Know?

Bilious is one of several words whose origins trace to the old belief that four bodily humors (black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood) control temperament. Just like phlegmatic (“of a slow and stolid phlegm-driven character”), melancholy (“experiencing dejection associated with black bile”), and sanguine (“of a cheerful, blood-based disposition”), bilious suggests a personality associated with an excess of one of the humors—in this case, yellow bile. Such a personality may also be described as unreasonable, peevish, or ill-tempered, as typified by Charlotte Brontë in her 1849 novel, Shirley: “These two men, of hard, bilious natures both, rarely came into contact but they chafed each other’s moods.”

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