question for safire's column

Fred Shapiro fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Thu Aug 3 02:58:04 UTC 2000

On Mon, 31 Jul 2000, Kathleen Miller wrote:

> He has me looking into the word livid and how it went from pale-bluish to
> enraged. The OED suggests "as if pale with rage."
> Merriam-Webster offers that livid can also mean reddish. I would more readily
> associate anger with "reddish" than "pale".
> Which one is it - or is it something else entirely?

The OED's first use of _livid_ in the sense "furiously angry" is dated
1912.  Here are some earlier examples I have found:

1841 James Fenimore Cooper _The Deerslayer_ II. 109  "Hetty, Hetty -- you
know not what you say!" murmured Judith, almost livid with emotion.

1890 Andrew Lang _Red Fairy Book_ 205  When the King ... heard him again
reclaiming his money, he became livid with rage.

1895 Stephen Crane _The Red Badge of Courage_ 99  The youth turned, with
sudden, livid rage, toward the battlefield.

1907 Francis H. Burnett _The Shuttle_ 48  He was in riding dress and was
breathless and livid with anger.

This usage probably is very old and not, at least in its origins,
"colloquial" (the OED characterizes it as "colloquial" in its entry for
the sense).  The contexts of the many early uses I have examined make it
clear that the color associated with the state of "livid" anger is a pale

Fred R. Shapiro                             Editor
Associate Librarian for Public Services     YALE DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS
  and Lecturer in Legal Research            Yale University Press,
Yale Law School                             forthcoming
e-mail: fred.shapiro at               ISBN 0-19-509547-2

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