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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]
    • (Can we date this quote?), John Arbuthnot, (Please provide the book title or journal name):
      Instances of longevity are chiefly among the abstemious
    • (Can we date this quote?), John Milton, (Please provide the book title or journal name):
      Under his special eye Abstemious I grew up and thrived amain.
    • 1646/50, Sir Thomas Browne, Pseudodoxia Epidemica, Book 3, Chap. 21, "Of the Cameleon":
      It cannot be denied it is (if not the most of any) a very abstemious animall, and as such 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.
    • 1919, W. Somerset Maugham, chapter 28, in The Moon and Sixpence:
      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]
    • (Can we date this quote?), Edward Gibbon, (Please provide the book title or journal name):
      an abstemious diet
  3. Marked by, or spent in, abstinence
    an abstemious life.
    • (Can we date this quote?), Alexander Pope, (Please provide the book title or journal name):
      One abstemious day.
    • 1826, Mary Shelley, chapter 5, in The Last Man:
      [] 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.


Derived terms[edit]


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  1. 1.0 1.1 “abstemious” in Lesley Brown, editor-in-chief; William R. Trumble and Angus Stevenson, editors, The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, 5th edition, Oxford; New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2002, ISBN 978-0-19-860457-0, page 9.