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sanguine, sanguinary

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Sanguine might be one of the most misused words in the English language, and that is partly because it has two meanings that seem almost the opposite of each other.

Sanguine means “reddish,” “bloody,” or “healthy,” as in a sanguine complexion. Sanguine also means “cheerfully confident or optimistic.”

Sanguinary means “bloodthirsty” or “accompanied by bloodshed.”

How did two seemingly different meanings arise? According to medieval physiology, the body had four humors or bodily fluids (blood, bile, phlegm, and black bile). As these fluids varied in proportion so did a person’s temperament. If blood predominated, a person had a ruddy face, which showed courage, hope, and a predisposition to fall in love. This temperament was called sanguine.

Example: After his morning run, he was sanguine in appearance and had an appetite that was nearly sanguinary in its craving for a nice juicy steak.

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