Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Saturnine

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

What It Means

Saturnine is a literary word that typically describes people who are glum and grumpy, or things that suggest or express gloom. It can also mean “slow to act or change.”

// A walk in the sunshine can improve your mood significantly, raising the spirits of even the most saturnine among us.

SATURNINE in Context

“The canvases that surround you at the Rothko Chapel here can at first seem merely dark. Entering the space after nightfall on Saturday, the interior dimly lit, I struggled to see much of anything in them at all. But even in that calm gloom, my eyes slowly acclimated to the 14 grandly saturnine paintings, made by Mark Rothko in the late 1960s. Shadowy rectangles began to emerge, floating over shadow.” — Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times, 21 Feb. 2022

Did You Know?

Saturnine is far—even astronomically far—from the cheeriest of words. It has a long history of describing the glum and grouchy among us, and comes ultimately from Sāturnus, name of the Roman god of agriculture, who was often depicted as a bent old man with a stern, sluggish, and sullen nature. Saturn, the ringed gas giant that is one of five planets visible to the naked eye, is of course the namesake of Sāturnus, and Saturn does indeed seem to dawdle; it requires over 29 of our Earth years to orbit the sun. The ancient Romans (like some astrologists today) believed those who are born when Saturn is rising in the sky may tend toward being a Gloomy Gus or Debbie Downer. We don’t know A. A. Milne’s take on the influence of Saturn, but his gloomy, cynical gray donkey Eeyore is famously saturnine, a fact Eeyore himself would surely stoically accept as true if it were pointed out to him.

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