The Word-Hoard: Abstemious(ness)



1. Sparing or moderate in eating and drinking; temperate in diet.

2. Characterized by abstinence.

3. Sparing.


I was a honestly a bit surprised when I came across this little number while reading Burroughs. The guy could write, but I generally don’t associate him with words like this.

The original form of the Latin root here referred specifically to abstinence from alcohol, and that’s how we see it used in the example below. It seems to have been expanded eventually to encompass a more general temperance, which has carried on as one usage for “abstemious”(ness).


All traces of alcohol had long since vanished from the young man’s system. His face showed the effects of his enforced abstemiousness in a marked degree. The red, puffy, blotchy complexion had given way to a clear, tanned skin; bright eyes supplanted the bleary, bloodshot things that had given the bestial expression to his face in the past. His features, always regular and strong, had taken on a peculiarly refined dignity from the salt air, the clean life, and the dangerous occupation of the deep-sea sailor, that would have put Kelly’s gang to a pinch to have recognized their erstwhile crony had he suddenly appeared in their midst in the alley back of the feed-store on Grand Avenue.

– Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Mucker (1913)


  1. I’m with Matthew on THE MUCKER. There’s also the fact that Robert E. Howard owned it and the novel was very likely an influence (one of many) on the creation of Conan.

    ERB had a large vocabulary but–just like his frequent social satire/commentary–he didn’t beat you over the head with it in his fiction.

    • Not sure how I feel about it yet. The protagonist isn’t (or doesn’t start off, anyway) very likable, and I thought I was getting myself into an SFF novel, but apparently not.

  2. The protagonist doesn’t start out very likable but he goes through character development. That’s the reason I like the book so much it has an actual character arc. There’s lost world elements in the later half of the book so there is an SFF element.

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