I broadened this question after encountering sanguinary.

1. sanguine: optimistic or positive, especially in an apparently bad or difficult situation:
2. sanguinary {archaic}: involving or causing much bloodshed

In both adjectives, I see the root "sang", the noun for "blood" in French (which interests me; I've never studied Latin though).

sanguine is defined as a POSITIVE connotation. Yet whenever I see it, my first thoughts of it are negative, because sang (in French) = blood, which reminds me of
"bloody," which connotes negativity in English.
Only after a minute of conscious recollection, do I realise that sanguine is positive.

Per contra, sanguinary is defined as a NEGATIVE connotation. Please compare and explain this difference?

Afterword: I only encountered this explaining 'sanguine', 13 months after writing the OP.

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    We don't know your thought processes. We don't know what you've read or thought or seen which associated "sanguine" with negative connotations in your mind. We can't answer this question. – Algernon_Asimov Feb 9 '14 at 13:05
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    @Algernon_Asimov - to my thinking, this is a fine venue for this type of question. LePressentiment has given us evidence of his work, as well as explained the problem he is having. – anongoodnurse Feb 9 '14 at 14:35
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    @Susan: Yes, LePressentiment has given us evidence of his work. Which SAYS "I associate 'sanguine' with 'bloody,' of negative connotation". It looks like he already knows the answer to his own question about his associations with this word. And, if he doesn't know the answer, how are WE supposed to know what he thinks? – Algernon_Asimov Feb 9 '14 at 21:03
  • @Susan: Thank you very much for your support. I've just emended my question thus I'll leave this question open for a bit longer. – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Feb 11 '14 at 12:30
  • @Algernon_Asimov: Please forgive me if my OP has galled you. I've emended it. Please enlighten me on any thoughts for further improvement? – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Feb 11 '14 at 12:31

Hippocrates believed certain human moods, emotions and behaviors were caused by an excess or lack of body fluids (called "humors"): blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. Galen proposed four (pure; most were mixtures) personality types, named "sanguine", "choleric", "melancholic" and "phlegmatic" (after the humors). Choleric and melancholic were to some degree "negative" whereas sanguine and phlegmatic were more optimistic and easy going.

Sanguine (as can be seen) does refer to blood. But nowhere (originally) did it carry a negative connotation.

Perhaps sanguine gained a negative connotation when blood letting became a treatment for all manner of illnesses. Or, because bloody is a negative adjective (bloody awful gets ~15x the hits bloody wonderful gets, but I am not BrE).

  • The 16th century and especially Bloody Mary may have had something to do with the negativity that blood-red acquired. – WS2 Feb 10 '14 at 9:11
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    Particular excess in sanguine humor makes one vigorous and thus optimistic ... or so the view goes – virmaior Feb 11 '14 at 12:38

This is an interesting question. I have copied below an abbreviated extract of the OED entry on 'sanguine' (missing out most of the quotations). You should find it interesting. The earliest meanings in the dictionary, which I have not included, relate to 'blood redness'. - see Susan's answer for an explanation as to how sanguine became one of Hippocrates' four humours.

The original meaning of 'sanguine' as you rightly deduce is to do with blood and redness and that was largely how it was once used. However because the blood red complexion became associated with hopefulness, 'sanguine' came to be the way of describing that particular humour.

I must add that I too have difficulty associating the two meanings. But the word has such a splendid history that it is worth cultivating.

sanguine, adj. and n.
Pronunciation: /ˈsæŋɡwɪn/
Forms: ME sangueyn(e, sangweyn(e, ME–15 sanguyn(e, sangwyn(e, ME–17 sanguin, ME sangewyn, ...
Etymology: < French sanguin (feminine sanguine ), < Latin sanguineus

4 a. Of persons or their dispositions: Having the mental attributes characteristic of the sanguine complexion (see sense A. 3 above); chiefly, disposed to hopefulness or confidence of success.

4 b. Of persons and expectations, etc.: Hopeful or confident with reference to some particular issue.

1673 R. Allestree Ladies Calling (1684) Pref. 4 When the most sanguine of his Disciples had denied, yea forswore, and all had forsaken him.

1876 A. J. Evans Through Bosnia ix. 417 And yet how fascinating is Ragusa still! It far surpassed our most sanguine expectations.

†1. A cloth of blood-red colour, also a piece of this.

1612 H. Peacham Gentlemans Exercise xxiii. 86 With which water you may diaper and dammaske vpon all other blewes, and sanguines to make them shew more faire and beautifull.

†3. The sanguine ‘complexion’ or temperament.

1530 J. Palsgrave Lesclarcissement 265/1 Sanguyn a complexion, sanguin.

1718 G. Hickes & R. Nelson Mem. J. Kettlewell i. ii. 15 His temper was a Mixture of Sanguine and Choler.

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    The phantom down-voter does his dreadful deed again! – WS2 Feb 9 '14 at 14:31
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    While it's a good idea to copy the relevant portions of your sources, it's important to copy only the directly relevant parts. Copying excerpts for didactic purposes is generally fair use, but copying entire entries in a dictionary generally is not. – Bradd Szonye Feb 10 '14 at 1:53
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    @KitFox I have significantly abbreviated the OED entry, eliminating over 16,000 characters! Apologies for that. I did get a bit carried away because it was so interesting. – WS2 Feb 10 '14 at 21:16
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    It was really interesting. Thanks for trimming it! – Kit Z. Fox Feb 10 '14 at 21:54
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    I didn't downvote, but I can see why. An etymology doesn't explain why someone feels a certain way about a word. mostly because you don't have the etymology in your head. That is literally the etymological fallacy. I think the question is unfair because it is asking for speculation. – Mitch Feb 10 '14 at 22:50

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