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From Middle English temperen, tempren, from Old English ġetemprian, temprian, borrowed from Latin temperō (I divide or proportion duly, I moderate, I regulate; intransitive senses I am moderate, I am temperate), from tempus (time, fit season). Compare also French tempérer. Doublet of tamper. See temporal.



temper (countable and uncountable, plural tempers)

  1. A tendency to be in a certain type of mood; a habitual way of thinking, behaving or reacting.
    to have a good, bad, or calm temper
  2. State of mind; mood.
    • 1667, John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 9, lines 1046-1048,[6]
      Remember with what mild
      And gracious temper he both heard and judg’d
      Without wrauth or reviling;
    • 1719, Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, London: W. Taylor, p. 193,[7]
      [] I must testify from my Experience, that a Temper of Peace, Thankfulness, Love and Affection, is much more the proper Frame for Prayer than that of Terror and Discomposure;
    • 1818, Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, Volume 3, Chapter 5,[8]
      [] her temper was fluctuating; joy for a few instants shone in her eyes, but it continually gave place to distraction and reverie.
    • 1850, Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, Chapter 29,[9]
      ‘You should be careful not to irritate her, James. Her temper has been soured, remember, and ought not to be tried.’
    • 1950, Nevil Shute, A Town Like Alice, London: Heinemann, 1952, Chapter 3, p. 94,[10]
      She bowed to him, to put him in a good temper.
  3. A tendency to become angry.
    to have a hasty temper
    He has quite a temper when dealing with salespeople.
  4. Anger; a fit of anger.
    an outburst of temper
  5. Calmness of mind; moderation; equanimity; composure.
    to keep one's temper; to lose one's temper; to recover one's temper
    • 1611, Ben Jonson, Catiline His Conspiracy, London: Walter Burre, Act IV,[17]
      Restore your selues, vnto your temper, Fathers;
      And, without perturbation, heare me speake:
    • 1734, [Alexander Pope], An Essay on Man. [], epistle IV, London: Printed for J[ohn] Wilford, [], OCLC 960856019, lines 372–373, page 79:
      Teach me like thee, in various Nature wiſe, / To fall with Dignity, with Temper riſe; [...]
    • 1819, Walter Scott, The Bride of Lammermoor, Chapter 22,[18]
      “And I think, madam,” said the Lord Keeper, losing his accustomed temper and patience, “that if you had nothing better to tell us, you had better have kept this family secret to yourself also.”
    • 1857, Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers, Chapter 19,[19]
      [] her temper was rarely ruffled, and, if we might judge by her appearance, she was always happy.
    • 1913, Joseph C. Lincoln, chapter 8, in Mr. Pratt's Patients:
      Afore we got to the shanty Colonel Applegate stuck his head out of the door. His temper had been getting raggeder all the time, and the sousing he got when he fell overboard had just about ripped what was left of it to ravellings.
  6. (obsolete) Constitution of body; the mixture or relative proportion of the four humours: blood, choler, phlegm, and melancholy.
    • 1650, Thomas Fuller, A Pisgah-Sight of Palestine and the Confines Thereof, London: John Williams, Book 3, Chapter 12, p. 345,[20]
      [] it is hard to say, whether [Christ’s] pain was more shamefull, or his shame more painfull unto him: the exquisiteness of his bodily temper, increasing the exquisiteness of his torment, and the ingenuity of his Soul, adding to his sensibleness of the indignities and affronts offered until him.
  7. Middle state or course; mean; medium.
  8. The state of any compound substance which results from the mixture of various ingredients; due mixture of different qualities.
    the temper of mortar
  9. The heat treatment to which a metal or other material has been subjected; a material that has undergone a particular heat treatment.
  10. The state of a metal or other substance, especially as to its hardness, produced by some process of heating or cooling.
    the temper of iron or steel
    • c. 1591, William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 1, Act II, Scene 4,[22]
      Between two blades, which bears the better temper: []
      I have perhaps some shallow spirit of judgement;
      But in these nice sharp quillets of the law,
      Good faith, I am no wiser than a daw.
  11. (sugar manufacture, historical) Milk of lime, or other substance, employed in the process formerly used to clarify sugar.
    • 1803, John Browne Cutting, “A Succinct History of Jamaica” in Robert Charles Dallas, The History of the Maroons, London: Longman and Rees, Volume 1, pp. xciv-xcv,[23]
      All cane juice is liable to rapid fermentation. As soon, therefore, as the clarifier is filled, the fire is lighted, and the temper (white lime of Bristol) is stirred into it. The alkali of the lime having neutralized its superabundant acid, a part of it becomes the basis of the sugar.


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temper (third-person singular simple present tempers, present participle tempering, simple past and past participle tempered)

  1. To moderate or control.
    Temper your language around children.
    • 1963 June, “Second thoughts on Beeching”, in Modern Railways, page 361:
      It is all very well tempering enthusiasm for the Report in most of its particulars, as the thinking press has since the debate, [...].
  2. To strengthen or toughen a material, especially metal, by heat treatment; anneal.
    Tempering is a heat treatment technique applied to metals, alloys, and glass to achieve greater toughness by increasing the strength of materials and/or ductility. Tempering is performed by a controlled reheating of the work piece to a temperature below its lower eutectic critical temperature.
  3. To sauté spices in ghee or oil to release essential oils for flavouring a dish in South Asian cuisine.
  4. To mix clay, plaster or mortar with water to obtain the proper consistency.
  5. (music) To adjust, as the mathematical scale to the actual scale, or to that in actual use.
  6. (obsolete, Latinism) To govern; to manage.
  7. (archaic) To combine in due proportions; to constitute; to compose.
    • 1610, The Tempest, by Shakespeare, act 3 scene 3
      You fools! I and my fellows
      Are ministers of fate: the elements
      Of whom your swords are temper'd may as well
      Wound the loud winds, or with bemock'd-at stabs
      Kill the still-closing waters, as diminish
      One dowle that's in my plume; []
  8. (archaic) To mingle in due proportion; to prepare by combining; to modify, as by adding some new element; to qualify, as by an ingredient; hence, to soften; to mollify; to assuage.
    • 1839, George Bancroft, History of the United States of America Volume 2
      Puritan austerity was so tempered by Dutch indifference, that mercy itself could not have dictated a milder system.
    • 1682 (first performance), Thomas Otway, Venice Preserv'd
      Woman! lovely woman! nature made thee / To temper man: we had been brutes without you.
    • 1812-1818, Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage
      But thy fire / Shall be more tempered, and thy hope far higher.
    • 1709, Joseph Addison, The Tatler No. 100
      She [the Goddess of Justice] threw darkness and clouds about her, that tempered the light into a thousand beautiful shades and colours.
  9. (obsolete) To fit together; to adjust; to accommodate.

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