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Over a long Parisian lunch today, my friend Thomas mentioned that he was grumpy this morning and great food and excellent company had put him in a much better frame of mind. I said to to him, “tu étais d’humeur atrabilaire ce matin.” Of the three friends at the table, all French, no-one knew the definition of ‘atrabilaire’ which means irascible, grumpy & just plain bad humor. Donc, if you want to dazzle your friends, French and Anglophone alike… try to use this word in a phrase!

“Atrabilaire désigne quelqu’un porté à la mélancolie mais aussi la mauvaise humeur, à l’irritation, à la colère. ”
Synonyms –    maussade, irascible, acariâtre, acrimonieux, bilieux, coléreux, taciturne.

Origine et histoire de « atrabilaire » Étymologie

Mot apparu au XVIe siècle, dérivé de atrabile.

Nom commun

Singulier Pluriel

atrabilaire /a.tʁɛʁ/

  1. Personne inquiète.
  2. Personne atrabilaire.
    • Un ou une atrabilaire.


atrabilaire /a.tʁɛʁ/

  1. Qui caractérise une personne inquiète ou irascible.
    • « De vous dire précisément s’il y a plus de gens à lier dans un pays que dans un autre, c’est ce que mes faibles lumières ne me permettent pas; je sais seulement qu’en général les gens que nous allons voir sont fort atrabilaires. » (Voltaire, Candide)

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Written by Erica Berman

Erica BermanErica Berman grew up in Lexington,Mass. After graduating from Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Journalism and an intensive summer at Middlebury College (Vermont), Erica came to Paris with hopes of submerging herself in French culture and perfecting her French -- and she never left. Erica is the founder and owner of Haven in Paris and the blog HiP Paris. She now splits her time between Paris (Montmartre), Maine (Damariscotta), Massachusetts (Lexington) and Italy (Genova). In her all-too-rare free time, Erica likes to travel off the beaten track, explore Paris, read, take photos, cook, ski, hike and enjoy long Sunday brunches with her friends.

Website: Erica Berman

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Posted in French 'mot' du moment, Parisian Living | 3 Comments »

3 Responses to “Atrabilaire”

  • I think it is quite uncommon in both languages!

  • Nils says:

    This is a cognate with the English word “atrabilious” — which I remember well from GRE days. The etymology is from “spitting black bile.” What I’d like to know is whether “atrabilaire” is any more common in French than “atrabilious” is in English.

    One of the common things that happens to me generally in French is that I use sognate words from English which are perfectly correct, but which are simply archaic or uncommon usages. I remember once I described myself as having gotten dressed by saying, “je me vêti” — which is not exactly wrong, so much as it is stilted, a bit like saying “I clothed myself” instead of “I got dressed.” Is “atrabilaire” in that mode.

  • Françoise says:

    Y a pas à tortiller, tu m’épateras toujours….
    En même temps, ça ne m’étonne qu’à moitié…Aurais-tu raté une autre vocation?
    …I dream that one day (maybe in another life) my english could (..or will, come on Françoise, be confident!) be as good as your french IS.
    Signé: Françoise, Française de Londres, et néanmoins amie……en totale admiration!!!!!

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