from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia
- n. an imaginary acrid change of the blood, lymph, etc., which by the humorists was conceived to cause many diseases. Synonyms Acrimony, Asperity, Harshness, Severity, Tartness, Sourness, Bitterness, Virulence, Rancor, acerbity, crabbedness, irascibility. (See harshness.) These words express different degrees of severe feeling, language, or conduct, their signification being determined largely by their derivation and primary use. Tartness is the mildest term, applying generally to language; it implies some wit or quickness of mind, and perhaps a willingness to display it. As tartness is the subacid quality of mind, so acrimony is its acidity; it is a biting sharpness; it may or may not proceed from a nature permanently soured. Sourness is the Anglo-Saxon for acrimony, with more suggestion of permanent quality — sourness of look or language proceeding from a sour nature. Bitterness, which is founded upon a kindred figure, is sourness with a touch of rancor; it is more positive and aggressive. Sourness and bitterness contain less malignity than acrimony. Virulence rises to a high degree of malignity, and rancor to such a height as almost to break down self-control; the whole nature is envenomed, rancid. These words are almost never applied to conduct; asperity and harshness, being founded upon a different figure, are naturally and often so applied; they convey the idea of roughness to the touch. Asperity is the lighter of the two; it is often a roughness of manner, and may be the result of anger; it has a sharper edge than harshness. Harshness is the most applicable to conduct, demands, etc., of all the list; it may proceed from insensibility to others' feelings or rights. Severity has a wide range of meaning, expressing often that which is justified or necessary, and often that which is harsh or hard; as applied to language or conduct it is a weighty word. We may speak of acrimony in debate or of feeling; asperity of manner; harshness of conduct, language, requirements, terms, treatment; severity of censure, punishment, manner; tartness of reply; sourness of aspect; bitterness of spirit, feeling, retort; virulence and rancor of feeling and language.
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