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Word Wisdom: Sanguine

The latest inspirational column from Rev. Dr. John Kreutzwieser.
Word Wisdom

Monty Python’s Life of Brian is a satirical comedic movie about the story of Brian Cohen, a Jewish-Roman man born on the same day and next door to Jesus in Palestine around 5 BC. Near the end of the film, in a scene that parodies the climactic section in the 1960 movie Spartacus, several people at a mass crucifixion all claim to be Brian. This ploy does not change the situation, but Brian’s spirits are lifted as fellow sufferers join in singing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” a song by Eric Idle of Monty Python.

Some things in life are bad, they can really make you mad, other things just make you swear and curse. When you're chewing on life's gristle, don’t grumble, give a whistle, and this'll help things turn out for the best, and . . . Always look on the bright side of life, always look on the light side of life.

If life seems jolly rotten, there's something you've forgotten, and that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing. When you're feeling in the dumps, don't be silly chumps, just purse your lips and whistle, that's the thing, and . . . Always look on the bright side of life, (Come on) always look on the right side of life.

The scene is meant to be a sanguine moment, encouraging eager hopefulness and confidently optimistic.

The word sanguine derives from the Latin sanguineus, meaning relating to blood. In the 14th century sanguine was first used in English as a colour, bloodred. “Her sanguine hair contrasted sharply with her pale complexion.” Due to the fast flow of blood in the veins, caused by exertion, alcohol, or the stress of shyness, a sanguine countenance, described what we often term “turning red in the face.”

Then in the 16th century, sanguine became associated with an optimistic personality. This came about because of the observed temperaments of people that ancient scholars believed were caused by an abundance of certain bodily fluids. The four humors of the human body were thought to be blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. Each was associated with a particular personality type. An optimistic person was said to have an abundance of blood, therefore a sanguine character. A phlegmatic person was unemotional and calm due to a lavishness of phlegm. A large quantity of yellow bile produced a choleric disposition, an extrovert and logical persona. A cautious and depressed temperament, melancholic, was caused by an abundance of black bile. Medical science has rejected this theory ages ago but some in the psychological field have built on it to describe personality types to this day.

If you have a sanguine disposition, you probably love adventure and have a high-risk tolerance. However, you may be poor at tolerating boredom. A sanguine nature is carefree, lively, and buoyant. This trait puts a strain on relationships. People with sanguine temperaments can easily struggle with addiction in many areas. Artists and entertainers often are classified as sanguine personalities.

Perhaps if we all had a little more blood in our systems, we could become more sanguine about the state of the world and our future in it. Every few days seems to bring another problem to the forefront in our lives. These things can cause us to be melancholic. If only there was a simple fix like draining the black bile out of us and infusing more blood to create hopefulness and optimism. 

St. Paul wrote, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13) May your outlook on life become more sanguine so together we can move forward to make this world a better place. 

Columnist John Kreutzwieser loves to research words and writes this weekly Word Wisdom column for Moose Jaw Express/  He has an interest in the usage, origin, and relevance of words for society today. Greek and Latin form the basis of many words, with ancient Hebrew shedding light on word usage.

John would like to know if anyone has a sincere interest in a relevant word that he could possibly research for an upcoming column. If so, please send your requests to . Words will be selected according to relevance and research criteria. We cannot confirm that all words will be used.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.