From Old French destemprer, from Latin distemperare.



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distemper (plural distempers)

  1. (veterinary medicine, pathology) A viral disease of animals, such as dogs and cats, characterised by fever, coughing and catarrh.
  2. (archaic) A disorder of the humours of the body; a disease.
    • 1719- Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe
      [] my spirits began to sink under the burden of a strong distemper, and nature was exhausted with the violence of the fever []
  3. A water-based paint.
    • 1918, W. B. Maxwell, chapter 10, in The Mirror and the Lamp:
      He looked round the poor room, at the distempered walls, and the bad engravings in meretricious frames, the crinkly paper and wax flowers on the chiffonier; and he thought of a room like Father Bryan's, with panelling, with cut glass, with tulips in silver pots, such a room as he had hoped to have for his own.
  4. A painting produced with this kind of paint.



distemper (third-person singular simple present distempers, present participle distempering, simple past and past participle distempered)

  1. To temper or mix unduly; to make disproportionate; to change the due proportions of.
  2. To derange the functions of, whether bodily, mental, or spiritual; to disorder; to disease.
    • 1594, William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act III,
      Guildenstern: The King, sir—
      Hamlet: Ay, sir, what of him?
      Guildenstern: Is in his retirement, marvellous distemper'd.
      Hamlet. With drink, sir?
      Guildenstern: No, my lord; rather with choler.
    • 1814, Joseph Stevens Buckminster, Sermons, Boston: John Eliot, Sermon XVI, p. 267, [1]
      The imagination, when completely distempered, is the most incurable of all disordered faculties.
    • 1924, Herman Melville, Billy Budd, London: Constable & Co., Chapter 3, [2]
      To some extent the Nore Mutiny may be regarded as analogous to the distempering irruption of contagious fever in a frame constitutionally sound, and which anon throws it off.
  3. To deprive of temper or moderation; to disturb; to ruffle; to make disaffected, ill-humoured, or malignant.
    • 1799-1800, Friedrich Schiller, The Piccolomini, translated by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Boston: Francis A. Niccolls & Co., 1902, p. 37, [3]
      I have been long accustomed to defend you, / To heal and pacify distempered spirits.
  4. To intoxicate.
    • 1623, Philip Massinger, The Duke of Milan, Act I, Scene I, [4]
      For the Courtiers reeling, / And the Duke himselfe, (I dare not say distemperd, / But kind, and in his tottering chaire carousing) / They doe the countrie service.
  5. To paint using distemper.
  6. To mix (colours) in the way of distemper.
    to distemper colors with size