question for safire's column [livid]

Frank Abate abatefr at EARTHLINK.NET
Tue Aug 1 18:34:38 UTC 2000

Livid is from Latin _lividus_, which means 'bluish; black and blue', as a
bruise would be.  FWIW, in Latin it had acquired an extended sense,

OED (at livid, c.) defines it as "Furiously angry, as if pale with rage".  I
cannot see where the OED lexicographer who wrote this def got the "pale"
idea from at all.  The etymology does not suggest it, nor does the use of
the term in its literal or extended senses, at least per the examples given
in OED.  The idea of "pale" in the OED def seems to me to be misleading.

In expressions like "livid with rage; livid with fury", the image I have is
that of a violently angry person, with eyes bulging and a deep reddish color
in the face -- such a deep color that it suggests bluishness.  I think
that's a reach, but it's metaphor, after all, and color terms are known to
be esp. prone to extension and looseness of signification.

Frank Abate

----- Original Message -----
From: <Mark_Mandel at DRAGONSYS.COM>
Sent: Tuesday, August 01, 2000 1:27 PM
Subject: Re: question for safire's column [livid]

> A. Murie <sagehen at SLIC.COM> replied to Kathleen Miller's question thus:
> >>>>>
> My unprofessional guess is that, as with many words, its similarity in
> sound to another word has caused it to accrue to itself a new meaning.
> While no doubt it once meant deathly pale, its similarity to /vivid/
> allowed it to be misconstrued in the expression "livid with anger" as
> probably bright red. Now we have "livid sunsets" as a result.
> <<<<<
> Although this isn't proveable either way, I doubt that similarity to
> "vivid" had much to do with it. How often has anyone here actually seen a
> person turn bluish-grey with rage? Usually the face turns red. I suspect
> that most people encounter the word only in this context, and by inference
> attach to it the typical color of an angry ("white") person's face.
> IOW (in other words), I'm agreeing with sagehen about misconstrual in the
> expression "livid with anger" -- these days maybe more often something
> "He was *livid*!" (which may lead in future, or even already?, to a
> semantic shift referring to emotion rather than color) -- but expressing
> doubt about the relevance of the similarity to "vivid".
>    Mark A. Mandel : Dragon Systems, a Lernout & Hauspie company
>  Mark_Mandel at : Sr. Linguist & Mgr. of Acoustic Data
>  320 Nevada St., Newton, MA 02460, USA :
>                      (speaking for myself)

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