From Latin ātra bīlis ‎(black bile) (āter ‎(dark, black) + bīlis ‎(bile)) +‎ -ous ‎(full of).


  • IPA(key): /ˌæ.tɹəˈbɪ.li.əs/
  • Hyphenation: atra‧bili‧ous


atrabilious ‎(comparative more atrabilious, superlative most atrabilious)

  1. (medicine, obsolete) Having an excess of black bile.
    • 1645, Arthur Wilson, quoted in Antonia Fraser, The Weaker Vessel: Woman's Lot in Seventeenth-century England, London: George Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd., 1984, ISBN 978-0-297-78381-7:
      [I] could see nothing in the evidence which did persuade me to think them other than poor, melancholy, envious, mischievous, ill-disposed, ill-dieted, atrabilious constitutions.
    • 1781, William Grant, Some Observations on the Origin and Progress of the Atrabilious Constitution and Gout. Chap. IV. Containing the Regular, Cardinal Fit[1], London: Printed for T[homas] Cadell, in the Strand, OCLC 642279734, pages 2–3:
      In like manner, all the atrabilious diſeaſes require a regimen, nearly ſimilar, during the interval of the fits, to alter the atrabilious conſtitution which gives riſe to them all; but each requires a ſpecial method of cure, peculiarly adapted to the organ on which the fluxion falls after the fit is formed. Thus, e.g. the piles require a treatment different from a fit of the gout; and ſo of the others.
  2. Characterized by melancholy.
    Do we listen to pop music because of atrabiliousness, or are we atrabilious because we listen to pop music? (High Fidelity magazine paraphrase)
    • 1896, Richard Le Gallienne, Prose Fancies, London: John Lane, OCLC 645165540:
      But the torch of taste has for the moment fallen into the hands of little men, anæmic and atrabilious, with neither laughter nor pity in their hearts.
    • 1939, Time, volume 34, number 1, page 48: 
      Lame, lank, atrabilious Charles Grey Grey [sic] is a 32nd generation Northumberlander.
  3. Ill-natured; malevolent.
    • 1927, Aristotle; E[dward] M[organ] Forster, transl., J[ohn] A[lexander] Smith; W[illiam] D[avid] Ross, editors, Problemata [The Works of Aristotle; vol. 7], Oxford: Clarendon Press, OCLC 256332148, Book XXX, chapter 1:
      Why is it that all those who have become eminent in philosophy or politics or poetry or the arts are clearly of an atrabilious temperament, and some of them to such an extent as to be affected by diseases caused by black bile, as is said to have happened to Heracles among the heroes? For he appears to have been of this nature, wherefore epileptic afflictions were called by the ancients 'the sacred disease' after him. That his temperament was atrabilious is shown by the fury which he displayed towards his children and the eruption of sores which took place on Mount Oeta; for this often occurs as the result of black bile.
    • 1946, Edumnd Crispin, The Moving Toyshop: A Detective Story, London: Victor Gollancz, OCLC 5157367, page 40:
      Fen was in an atrabilious mood. "You've been the devil of a time," he grumbled as Lily Christine III got under way again.
    • 1993, Patrick O'Brian, The Wine-Dark Sea, London: HarperCollins, ISBN 978-0-00-223826-7:
      Yet at the same time he detected much of this same cheerfulness throughout the ship and something not very far from apparent unconcern, even in so atrabilious a soul as Killick.


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