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First attested in 1600. From Latin abstēmius (abstaining from wine); from ab, abs (from) + tēmus, root of tēmētum (intoxicating drink, mead, wine), akin to German dämlich (stupid, silly), Old Norse þám (mugginess), Old Irish tám (death), Sanskrit ताम्यति (tāmyati, he becomes stunned, exhausted).



abstemious (comparative more abstemious, superlative most abstemious)

  1. Sparing in diet; refraining from a free use of food and strong drinks; temperate; abstinent; sparing in the indulgence of the appetite or passions. [First attested in the mid 17th century.][1]
    • Instances of longevity are chiefly among the abstemious - John Arbuthnot.
    • Under his special eye Abstemious I grew up and thrived amain. - John Milton
    • 1919, W. Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence, chapter 28
      In the dimness of the landing I could not see him very well, but there was something in his voice that surprised me. I knew he was of abstemious habit or I should have thought he had been drinking.
  2. Sparingly used; used with temperance or moderation. [First attested in the mid 17th century.][1]
  3. Marked by, or spent in, abstinence; as, an abstemious life.
    • One abstemious day. - Alexander Pope
    • 1826, Mary Shelley, The Last Man, Chapter 5
      [...] when I, abstemious naturally, and rendered so by the fever that preyed on me, was forced to recruit myself with food.
  4. (rare) Promotive of abstemiousness.
    • Such is the virtue of the abstemious well. - John Dryden


abstentious, abstinent, continent, self-abnegating, self-denying, sober, temperate

Derived terms[edit]


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  1. 1.0 1.1 Lesley Brown (editor), The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 5th edition (Oxford University Press, 2003 [1933], ISBN 978-0-19-860575-7), page 9