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From Latin abstēmius (abstaining from wine); from ab, abs (from) + tēmus, a root of tēmētum (intoxicating drink, especially strong mead or wine) (possibly from Proto-Indo-European *temH- (dark (referring to the colour of wine))) +‎ -ous.[1]



abstemious (comparative more abstemious, superlative most abstemious)

  1. Refraining from freely consuming food or strong drink; sparing in diet; abstinent, temperate. [From early 17th c.]
    • 1646, Thomas Browne, “Of the Cameleon”, in Pseudodoxia Epidemica: Or, Enquiries into Very Many Received Tenents, and Commonly Presumed Truths, London: Printed for Tho. Harper for Edvvard Dod, OCLC 838860010; Pseudodoxia Epidemica: Or, Enquiries into Very Many Received Tenents, and Commonly Presumed Truths. [...] Together with Some Marginall Observations, and a Table Alphabeticall at the End, book 3, 2nd corrected and much enlarged edition, London: Printed by A. Miller, for Edw[ard] Dod and Nath. Ekins, at the Gunne in Ivie Lane, 1650, OCLC 152706203, page 133:
      It cannot be denied it [the chameleon] is (if not the moſt of any) a very abſtemious animall, and ſuch as by reaſon of its frigidity, paucity of bloud, and latitancy in the winter (about which time the obſervations are often made) will long ſubſist without a viſible ſuſtentation.
    • 1671, John Milton, “Samson Agonistes, a Dramatic Poem. Of that Sort of Dramatic Poem which is Call’d Tragedy.”, in Paradise Regain’d. A Poem. In IV Books. To which is Added, Samson Agonistes, London: Printed by J. M[acock] for John Starkey at the Mitre in Fleetstreet, near Temple-Bar, OCLC 228732398, lines 637–638, page 42:
      Under his ſpecial eie / Abſtemious I [Samson] grew up and thriv'd amain; / He led me on to mightieſt deeds / Above the nerve of mortal arm / Againſt the uncircumciſ'd, our enemies.
    • [1731, John Arbuthnot, “Of the Different Intentions to be Pursued in the Choice of Aliment in Different Constitutions”, in An Essay concerning the Nature of Aliments, and the Choice of Them, According to the Different Constitutions of Human Bodies. In which the Different Effects, Advantages and Disadvantages of Animal and Vegetable Diet are Explain’d, Dublin: Printed by S. Powell, for George Risk, at the Shakespear's Head, George Ewing, at the Angel and Bible, and William Smith, at the Hercules, book-sellers in Dame's-Street, OCLC 723154434, proposition VII (To Explain the Symptoms, Causes, and Proper Diet of Constitutions, which Abound with a Spontaneous Alkali), paragraph 20, pages 91–92:
      In too great Repletion either the elaſtick Force of the Tube is totally deſtroy'd; or if it continue proportional to the Degree of Extenſion like a Bow too ſtrongly drawn, it throws the Fluid with too great a projectile Force forward through the Veſſels, and back upon the Heart, and ſubjects the Animal to all the Diſeaſes depending on a Plethory, and may bring it into immediate Danger. [] The Inſtances of Longevity are chiefly among the Abſtemious.
      A use of the adjective as a noun.]
    • 1826, [Mary Shelley], chapter IV, in The Last Man. [...] In Three Volumes, volume I, London: Henry Colburn, New Burlington Street, OCLC 230675575, page 148:
      [] I, abstemious naturally, and rendered so by the fever that preyed on me, was forced to recruit myself with food.
    • [1845, [Robert Malcolm, comp.], “The Living Skeleton”, in Curiosities of Biography, Or Memoirs of Remarkable Men, Glasgow: Printed for Richard Griffin & Company, OCLC 315316637, page 285:
      On turning around, I was instantly rivetted by his amazing emaciation; he seemed another "Lazarus, come forth" without his grave-clothes, [] Below the ribs, the trunk so immediately curves in, that the red band of the silk covering, though it is only loosely placed, seems a tourniquet to constrict the bowels within their prison-house, and the hip-bones, being of their natural size, the waist is like a wasp's. By this part of the frame we are reminded of some descriptions of the abstemious and Bedouin Arab of the desert, in whom it is said the abdomen seems to cling to the vertbræ.
      A use of the adjective as a noun.]
    • 1919, W[illiam] Somerset Maugham, chapter XXVIII, in The Moon and Sixpence. A Novel, London: William Heinemann, OCLC 563525353; The Moon and Sixpence, 1st American edition, [New York, N.Y.]: Grosset & Dunlap Publishers by arrangement with George H. Doran Company, 1919, OCLC 365836:
      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.
    • 2003, Gabriel García Márquez; Edith Grossman, transl., chapter 4, in Living to Tell the Tale, New York, N.Y.: Alfred A. Knopf, ↑ISBN:
      The other duel, which occurred much earlier but was indelible in the town's memory, was the one between Plinio Balmaceda and Dionisiano Barrios. The first was a member of an old and respectable family, an enormous, charming man but also a troublemaker with a wicked temper when he crossed paths with alcohol. [] Dionisiano Barrios was just the opposite: a timid, impaired man, an enemy of brawls and abstemious by nature.
  2. Sparing in the indulgence of the appetite or passions.
    • 2010, Rebecca L. Davis, “Sacred Partnerships”, in More Perfect Unions: The American Search for Marital Bliss, Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard University Press, ↑ISBN, page 149:
      The Ms had an abstemious sex life; in fourteen years of marriage, they had had sex exactly six times. Mrs. M desired sex and more children, but her husband refused.
  3. Sparingly used; used with temperance or moderation.
    • 1842, John Reitch, “[A Dictionary of Domestic Medicine.] EPILEPSY.”, in Gibbons Merle; John Reitch, The Domestic Dictionary and Housekeeper’s Manual: Comprising Everything Related to Cookery, Diet, Economy and Medicine. By Gibbons Merle. The Medical Portion of the Work by John Reitch, M.D., London: William Strange, 21, Paternoster Row, OCLC 562334031, page 360, column 2:
      If the predisposition to the disease has arisen from a plethoric state of the system, or from a turgescence in the vessels of the head, this is to be obviated by bleeding, both generally and topically, but more particularly the latter; an abstemious diet and proper exercise; and by a seton in the neck.
  4. Marked by, or spent in, abstinence.
    an abstemious life
  5. (rare) Promotive of abstemiousness.



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  1. ^ Compare “abstemious” (US) / “abstemious” (UK) in Oxford Dictionaries, Oxford University Press.