Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Today's Word (and Feeling): saturnine

saturnine: Saturnine has a number of useful meanings.
  1. The (chronologically) first meaning is "of or about the Roman god Saturn, the god of agriculture and the equivalent of the Greek god Cronus."
  2. Then someone named a big, pretty planet Saturn, so saturnine came also to mean (astronomically) "of or about the planet Saturn" and (astrologically) "born under the influence of Saturn."
  3. Alchemists thought that the planet Saturn was very cold, and they also observed that lead was very cold, so they used one to name the other. Here I find some variation in my sources, which say that the alchemical name for lead was saturnia, saturnus, or plain old saturn, so saturnine also means "of or about lead" and, more recently, "having lead poisoning."
  4. But perhaps the most widely used meaning of saturnine today is "cheerless, dull, morose, or sluggish" -- the opposite of mercurial, a word which has undergone the same types of etymological metamorphoses. I assume there is some link between the idea of lead being physically heavy and cold and some people being emotionally heavy and cold, which is exactly how I feel today -- as well as being physically cold. (I'm looking forward to the return of sunshine and temperatures above freezing any day now.)