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See also: Saturnine



The planet Saturn photographed by the Cassini spacecraft on 6 October 2004. One of the meanings of the word saturnine is “pertaining to the astrological influence of the planet Saturn” (sense 5).

From Middle English saturnine, satournine, satournyne, saturnin, saturnyn, saturnyne (pertaining to or under the influence of the planet Saturn; line on the palm of the hand associated with Saturn),[1] from Old French saturnine, saturnin (modern French saturnin (of, pertaining to, resembling or containing lead, plumbic)), or directly from its etymon Medieval Latin Sāturnīnus, from Sāturnus (the Roman god Saturn; the planet Saturn) + -īnus (suffix meaning ‘of or pertaining to’); analysable as Saturn +‎ -ine. The English word is cognate with Italian saturnino (saturnine), Portuguese saturnino (melancholy, saturnine; pertaining to the planet Saturn), Spanish saturnino (melancholy, saturnine; pertaining to the planet Saturn).[2]

Sense 1 (“having a tendency to be cold, bitter, gloomy, etc.”) refers to the fact that individuals born under the astrological influence of the planet Saturn were believed to have that disposition.



saturnine (comparative more saturnine, superlative most saturnine)

  1. (comparable) Of a person: having a tendency to be cold, bitter, gloomy, sarcastic, and slow to change and react.
    Synonyms: dark, grim, sardonic; see also Thesaurus:cheerless
    Antonyms: cheerful, jovial; see also Thesaurus:happy
    • [1661, Robert Lovell, “Isagoge Zoologicomineralogica. Or An Introduction to the History of Animals and Minerals, or Panzoographie, and Pammineralogie.”, in ΠΑΝΖΩΟΡΥΚΤΟΛΟΓΙΑ [PANZŌORYKTOLOGIA]. Sive Panzoologicomineralogia. Or A Compleat History of Animals and Minerals, Containing the Summe of All Authors, both Ancient and Modern, Galenicall and Chymicall, [...], Oxford, Oxfordshire: [] Hen[ry] Hall, for Jos[eph] Godwin, →OCLC:
      Alſo amongſt the aforeſaid living creatures, ſome are Solar, [...] the contrary, are ſuch as are Lunar, Saturnine, and Martiall, &c. [...] The Saturnine, are the ſolitary, nocturnall and ſad: as the Aſſe, camel, cat, ape, hare, mule, mouſe, mole, bear, toad, and wolfe.]
    • 1711 October 6 (Gregorian calendar), [Joseph Addison; Richard Steele et al.], “TUESDAY, September 25, 1711”, in The Spectator, number 179; republished in Alexander Chalmers, editor, The Spectator; a New Edition, [], volume II, New York, N.Y.: D[aniel] Appleton & Company, 1853, →OCLC, page 428:
      I may cast my readers under two general divisions: the mercurial and the saturnine. The first are the gay part of my disciples, who require speculations of wit and humour; the others are those of a more solemn and sober turn, who find no pleasure but in papers of morality and sound sense.
    • 1751, [Tobias] Smollett, “He Introduces His New Friends to Mr. Jolter, with whom the Doctor Enters into a Dispute upon Government, which had Well Nigh Terminated in Open War”, in The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle [], volumes (please specify |volume=I to IV), London: Harrison and Co., [], →OCLC, page 127:
      Theſe gentlemen, with an equal ſhare of pride, pedantry, and ſaturnine diſpoſition, were by the accidents of education and company, diametrically oppoſite in political maxims; [...]
    • 1793–1796, John Whitehead, chapter VI, in The Life of the Rev. John Wesley, M.A. [], London: Printed by Stephen Couchman; and sold by Knight and Son [...]; J. Matthews [...]; D. Taylor [...]; and W. Bulgin [...], →OCLC; republished Auburn, Buffalo, N.Y.: John E. Beardsley, 1844, →OCLC, section I (A Review of Mr. Wesley’s Character), page 550:
      He [Samuel Johnson] said, "Mr. [John] Wesley's conversation is good; he talks well on any subject; I could converse with him all night." But Dr. Johnson would certainly not have expressed himself in this strong language of approbation, had Mr. Wesley been that dark, saturnine creature, represented by Archbishop [Thomas] Herring.
    • 1822 May 29, [Walter Scott], chapter XI, in The Fortunes of Nigel. [], volume III, Edinburgh: [] [James Ballantyne and Co.] for Archibald Constable and Co.; London: Hurst, Robinson, and Co., →OCLC, pages 318–319:
      As the eye of the injured man slowly passed from the body of the seducer to the partner and victim of his crime, [...] his features, naturally coarse and saturnine, assumed a dignity of expression which overawed the young Templars, [...]
    • 1866 December 10, Charles Dickens, “No. 1 Branch Line. The Signal-Man.”, in Charles Dickens, editor, Mugby Junction. The Extra Christmas Number of All the Year Round, volume XVI, London: Published at No. 26, Wellington Street; and by Messrs. Chapman and Hall, [], →OCLC, page 21:
      The monstrous thought came into my mind as I perused the fixed eyes and the saturnine face, that this was a spirit, not a man.
    • 1886 October – 1887 January, H[enry] Rider Haggard, She: A History of Adventure, London: Longmans, Green, and Co., published 1887, →OCLC:
      Accordingly, having indicated our wish to a middle-aged individual of an unusually saturnine cast of countenance, even among this saturnine people, who appeared to be deputed to look after us now that the Father of the hamlet had departed, we started in a body - having first lit our pipes.
  2. (comparable) Of a setting: depressing, dull, gloomy.
    • 1652, Nich[olas] Culpeper, “Henbane”, in The English Physitian: Or An Astrologo-physical Discourse of the Vulgar Herbs of This Nation. [], London: [] Peter Cole, [], →OCLC, page 67:
      All the Herbs which delight moſt to grow in Saturnine places, are Saturnine Herbs. But Henbane delights moſt to grow in Saturnine places, and whol Cart loads of it may be found neer the places where they empty the common Jakes, and ſcarce a ſtinking Ditch to be found without, it growing by it. Ergo 'tis an Herb of Saturn.
    • 1997, David Foster Wallace, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”, in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments, Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown and Company, →ISBN:
      This saturnine line of thinking proceeds as the clouds overhead start to coalesce and the sky takes on its regular clothy P.M. weight.
    • 2019 January 28, Tom Dart, “US soccer’s Gregg Berhalter era starts with a win and the echo of empty seats”, in The Guardian[1], London: Guardian News & Media, →ISSN, →OCLC, archived from the original on 24 June 2019:
      It is not easy to kick off a new era with the requisite upbeat mood when the saturnine sight of a near-vacant arena evokes the apathy caused by past disappointments.
  3. (comparable, chemistry, archaic) Of, pertaining to, or containing lead (which was symbolically associated with the planet Saturn by alchemists).
    • 1772, John Aikin, “Section I. On Inflammations.”, in Observations on the External Use of Preparations of Lead, with Some General Remarks on Topical Medicines. [], 2nd corrected edition, London: Printed for Joseph Johnson, [], →OCLC, part II, pages 44–45:
      The ſwelled teſticles frequently accompanying a gonorrhea will very well illuſtrate the effects of emollient, ſaturnine, and common aſtringent and ſtimulant topics. [...] Saturnine applications have been uſed in theſe caſes with great ſucceſs. I have ſeen that the ſaturnine water made pretty ſtrong, applied cold, and aſſiſted by proper poſture and bandage, remove the tumour and pain in a ſhort time, and duly continued, take away all hardneſs.
    • 1803, William Lambe, Researches into the Properties of Spring Water with Medical Cautions (Illustrated by Cases) against the Use of Lead in the Construction of Pumps, Water-pipes, Cisterns, &c., London: Sold by J[oseph] Johnson, [], →OCLC, pages 39–40:
      But the operation of lead on the ſyſtem is powerfully ſedative and debilitating, and directly adverſe to exuberant action. Hence in the moſt acute form of the ſaturnine diſeaſe, opium, (which is ſtrongly ſtimulant on the arterial ſyſtem) is adminiſtered, with ſafety and advantage, in quantites much larger than can be borne in moſt other diſeaſes; [...]
  4. (not comparable, pathology) Caused or affected by lead poisoning (saturnism).
    • 1875 August 16, “Renaut on Chronic Lead-poisoning”, in The London Medical Record: A Review of the Progress of the Medical Sciences and of Subjects Relating to Public Health, volume III, London: Smith, Elder & Co., [], →OCLC, page 503, column 1:
      The slow saturation of the animal economy by the metal renders the individual saturnine, and prepares in him a fresh ground, containing a reserve of lead, which, under the influence of accidental causes, may pass back in a notable quantity into the blood and bring on accidents analogous to those of acute poisoning or presenting special characteristics. The first effects of lead impregnation are, production of saturnine anæmia [...] acute or chronic saturnine asthma then come on; [...]
  5. (not comparable, astrology, obsolete) Pertaining to the astrological influence of the planet Saturn; having the characteristics of a person under such influence (see sense 1).

Derived terms[edit]

Related terms[edit]



  1. ^ sā̆turnīn(e, adj.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 5 July 2019.
  2. ^ saturnine, adj. and n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1909; “saturnine, adj.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

Further reading[edit]






  1. feminine singular of saturnin



saturnine f pl

  1. feminine plural of saturnino