Etymology – Back To The Origins

Did someone run away with my temper?🙊🙃

To gain an understanding of the usage of the word “temper” in the phrase “to lose one’s temper”, it would be useful, first, to note its appearance as a segment in the words “temperature”, “temperate”, and “temperament”.

Etymology refers to the study of the origin of a word and the historical development of its meaning.

The Etymology and Science

When we dig into the etymology of the word “temper”, we are led to examine its origin in the context of humoral pathology (four humors) – as developed in ancient Greece and Roman societies, who in turn borrowed from the much older Ayurveda system of “tridoshas” (vata, pitta, kapha). Aristotle focused on the four elements (air, fire, water, earth) as the building blocks of the universe (Plato developed it further). Hippocrates (who was greatly influenced by Ayurveda) developed the theory of the four humors – blood, bile, phlegm, and water. These and other thinkers believed that the four elements and the four humors determined the behavior of all created things, including the human body. Some of the noted thinkers of the time characterized all behavior into four types: melancholic, phlegmatic, choleric, and sanguine. The information about Hippocrates’ theory of four humours has been carefully studied from

The four behaviours of a human

Thus, the overall behavior of a human or overall disposition could be described as “temperament”. Subsequently, a 16th century Roman physician, Galen, proposed that the temperament was dependent on temperature. Therefore, he stated that all sickness was “distemperature”. Attach below is a link to help you learn more about etymology and its sublime magic!


We can now make the connection between temperate (which generally refers to mild – neither too hot nor too cold), temperature, and temperament. Seen in this light, losing one’s temper refers to losing that temperate state, and moving to distemperature (both in physical and mental sense) – and that was perhaps most outwardly manifest when someone exhibited anger.

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