According to various dictionaries, sanguine means "(eagerly) optimistic, confident, cheerful, hopeful". Yet I always get the impression that modern writers intend a somewhat weaker meaning: more like unworried or unperturbed, perhaps expressing the tone of "it's going to be rough, but we can handle it" rather than "it's going to be good". What exact shade of meaning on this scale does the word express?

  • What's the difference between "it is going to be rough, but we can handle it" and being condifent or optimistic? – user66974 Feb 20 '15 at 11:59
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    I always thought it meant more like "resigned to a mediocre but overall marginally positive outcome". Never looked it up in any dictionary though :) – Marv Mills Feb 20 '15 at 12:14
  • @Josh61: It's a matter of degree. There is a distinction even between "reservedly optimistic" and "cautiously optimistic". If an adjective is unqualified, the tone is more positive. I have the impression that sanguine carries a more neutral tone than confident or optimistic. – John Bentin Feb 20 '15 at 12:25
  • @MarvMills: That's pretty much how I see it. But my dictionaries seem to be more rooted in the original meaning. – John Bentin Feb 20 '15 at 12:33
  • It just means "bloody". A bit like "red-blooded", or "rosy-cheeked". – Fattie Jun 9 '17 at 18:03

I will confess to having used and understood "sanguine" as described in your weaker meaning. I do agree that the dictionary meaning is much stronger: actually being confident and hopeful, whereas I had intended to express that I was unperturbed.

This link gives an example of someone explicitly using the lesser meaning.

My conclusion: I will not in future use "sanguine" without further clarifying my meaning. It is pointless to swim against the tide of language evolution, but I don't want to be misunderstood. If I intend the lesser meaning then a reader may look the word up in a dictionary, if I intend the dictionary meaning too many folks now have adopted the lesser meaning. Can't win, so use something else.

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    Yeah, I've always taken it to mean "pleasantly relaxed & unworried" or something of that nature, given the contexts where I've heard (or more often read) it. Not a word I'd use myself. – Hot Licks Feb 20 '15 at 13:26
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    So you aren't sanguine about your future use of sanguine? – Oldcat Feb 20 '15 at 22:21

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