Alternative formsEdit


From Middle English malencolie, from Old French melancolie, from Ancient Greek μελαγχολία (melankholía, atrabiliousness), from μέλας (mélas), μελαν- (melan-, black, dark, murky) + χολή (kholḗ, bile). Compare the Latin ātra bīlis (black bile). The adjectival use is a Middle English innovation, perhaps influenced by the suffixes -y, -ly.


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˈmelənkəli/
  • (US) IPA(key): /ˈmɛl.ənˌkɑl.i/
  • (file)


melancholy (countable and uncountable, plural melancholies)

  1. (historical) Black bile, formerly thought to be one of the four "cardinal humours" of animal bodies.
    • 1624, Democritus Junior [pseudonym; Robert Burton], The Anatomy of Melancholy: [], 2nd edition, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Printed by John Lichfield and James Short, for Henry Cripps, OCLC 54573970:
      , Bk.I, New York 2001, p.148:
      Melancholy, cold and dry, thick, black, and sour, [] is a bridle to the other two hot humours, blood and choler, preserving them in the blood, and nourishing the bones.
  2. Great sadness or depression, especially of a thoughtful or introspective nature.
    • 1593, William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 2, V. i. 34:
      My mind was troubled with deep melancholy.
    • 1599, William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act IV, Scene 1,[1]
      I have neither the scholar’s melancholy, which is emulation; nor the musician’s, which is fantastical; nor the courtier’s, which is proud; nor the soldier’s, which is ambitious; nor the lawyer’s, which is politic; nor the lady’s, which is nice; nor the lover’s, which is all these; but it is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects, and, indeed, the sundry contemplation of my travels; in which my often rumination wraps me in a most humorous sadness.
    • 1831, Letitia Elizabeth Landon, Romance and Reality, volume 3, page 111:
      "The ancients referred melancholy to the mind, the moderns make it matter of digestion—to either case my plan applies," said Lady Mandeville.

Derived termsEdit



melancholy (comparative more melancholy, superlative most melancholy)

  1. (literary) Affected with great sadness or depression.
    Melancholy people don't talk much.
    • 1922, Ben Travers, chapter 1, in A Cuckoo in the Nest[2]:
      “[…] the awfully hearty sort of Christmas cards that people do send to other people that they don't know at all well. You know. The kind that have mottoes [] . And then, when you see [the senders], you probably find that they are the most melancholy old folk with malignant diseases. […]”



Related termsEdit