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I read in Peter Ackroyd's retelling of The Canterbury Tales the following phrases:

  1. He was all fire and life, a sanguinary man. (The Monk in the Prologue)
  2. The beard of this freeholder was as white as a daisy, and he was of red-cheeked sanguinary humour. (The Franklin, ibid)

I wonder if Mr. Ackroyd misused the word "sanguinary" for "sanguine," or are there actually overlaps between the connotations of the two words? In other words, can both "sanguine" and "sanguinary" be used to mean "marked by eager hopefulness : confidently optimistic" ("sanguine" in Merriam-Webster), or does "sanguinary" carry negative connotations (bloodthirsty, murderous - "sanguinary," ibid.) only?

Thank you in advance for taking time in answering my question.

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    Please show at least one linked and attributed definition for each word. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 12 '20 at 18:35
  • Wouldn't that be Peter Ackroyd and not David Ackroyd, who is an American actor? – LPH Aug 12 '20 at 18:56
  • Yes, Peter Ackroyd. Thanks for the correction. – Xie Jerry Aug 12 '20 at 19:06
  • I find no reason at all to assume that the spelling was a mistake. In context, sanguinary makes more sense to me. All other cues do indicate a bloodthirsty meaning. – Jason Bassford Aug 12 '20 at 19:06
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It seems like "sanguinary" is an error, at least in the first quote. The definition of sanguinary in Merriam-Webster is

  1. BLOODTHIRSTY, MURDEROUS
    sanguinary hatred
  2. attended by bloodshed : BLOODY
    this bitter and sanguinary war — T. H. D. Mahoney
  3. consisting of blood
    a sanguinary stream

Other dictionaries have similar definitions, it's always related to literal blood.

While "sanguine" comes from the same root referring to blood, it has since acquired a more figurative meaning referring to optimism. M-W:

marked by eager hopefulness : confidently optimistic
In the month of August 1994, Democrats remained sanguine about their chances at the polls …

This is how it seems to be used in the first sentences you quote.

The second use is harder to pin down. To me, "red-cheeked" suggests jocularity, which I find related to a positive outlook, so I think "sanguine" would be more appropriate. But he also could be describing an acerbic wit, which could be considered "bloodthirsty", and in that case "sanguinary" would fit.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Aug 23 '20 at 20:39

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