Adventures in Etymology: Saturnine




Reason for Adventure

It popped up in Catch 22 by Joseph Heller as a description for a character and I was curious to know what the characteristics of someone resembling a planet were exactly. Definitions/Origins

1. sluggish in temperament; gloomy; taciturn.
2. suffering from lead poisoning, as a person.
3. due to absorption of lead, as bodily disorders.
1400–50; late Middle English  < Medieval Latin sāturnīnus  (see Saturn,-ine)

Related forms:
Sat·ur·nine·ly, adverb
Sat·ur·nine·ness, sat·ur·nin·i·ty [sat-er-nin-i-tee], noun

saturnine. (n.d.). Unabridged. Retrieved March 06, 2013, from website:

Online Etymology Dictionary Information

saturnine (adj.) “gloomy, morose, sluggish, grave,” mid-15c., literally “born under the influence of the planet Saturn,” from Middle English Saturne (see Saturn). Medieval physiology believed these characteristics to be caused by the astrological influence of the planet Saturn, which was the most remote from the Sun (in the limited knowledge of the times) and thus coldest and slowest in its revolution.

Harper, D. (2012). Online etymology dictionary. Retrieved March 6, 2013 from

11 thoughts on “Adventures in Etymology: Saturnine

  1. angelicreader says:

    Knock Knock…

    I have not visited in a while… So I figured I would drop by for a cuppa.

    FYI I believe I was born under the influence of the planet Saturn. 😛

    Bookbagger out 🙂


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