from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. Thick, sticky, stringy mucus secreted by the mucous membrane of the respiratory tract, as during a cold or other respiratory infection.
  • n. One of the four humors of ancient and medieval physiology, thought to cause sluggishness, apathy, and evenness of temper.
  • n. Sluggishness of temperament.
  • n. Calm self-possession; equanimity.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. One of the four humors of which the ancients supposed the blood to be composed. See humor.
  • n. Viscid mucus secreted in abnormal quantity in the respiratory and digestive passages.
  • n. A watery distilled liquor, in distinction from a spirituous liquor.
  • n. Sluggishness of temperament; dullness; want of interest; indifference; coldness.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. One of the four humors of which the ancients supposed the blood to be composed.
  • n. In old chemistry, the aqueous, insipid, and in odorous products obtained by subjecting moist vegetable matter to the action of heat.
  • n. A thick viscid matter secreted in the digestive and respiratory passages, and discharged by coughing or vomiting; bronchial mucus.
  • n. Dullness; sluggishness; indifference; coolness; apathy; calm self-restraint.
  • n. Synonyms Insensibility, Impassibility, etc. See apathy.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. apathy demonstrated by an absence of emotional reactions
  • n. expectorated matter; saliva mixed with discharges from the respiratory passages; in ancient and medieval physiology it was believed to cause sluggishness
  • n. inactivity; showing an unusual lack of energy


Middle English fleume, mucous discharge, the humor phlegm, from Old French, from Medieval Latin phlegma, flegma, from Late Latin phlegma, the humor phlegm, from Greek, heat, the humor phlegm, from phlegein, to burn.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Old French fleume, Middle French phlegme (French flegme), and their source, Latin phlegma, from Ancient Greek φλέγμα (phlegma, "flame; inflammation; clammy humor in the body"), from φλέγειν ("to burn"). Compare phlox, flagrant, flame, bleak (adjective), fulminate. (Wiktionary)


  • He is coughing up phlegm from a sickness he is certain arrived with all the recent stress of divorce and debt, and now he doesn't walk so much as wobble his way into one of the closets upstairs, where he happens upon some painful, wonderful memories he keeps sealed in a plastic cup.

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  • Surely our colloquial use of the word phlegm must be derived from the character of the

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  • I think we should pronounce it with the “X” sound … y’know like clearing phlegm from the back of our throat and gettin’ ready to throw a big loogy.

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  • Note 189: This body by which we are all sustained and live is composed ... of four humors, for it has in it blood, red bile, which we call choler, black bile, which we call melancholy, and phlegm, which is called pituita in Latin ....

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  • I'm not even talking about English letters which are silent: lamb, debt, calm, listen, know, yacht, or my favorite, the unsung letter "g" in phlegm.

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  • White phlegm, which is dangerous if kept in, by reason of the air bubbles, is not equally dangerous if able to escape through the pores, although it variegates the body, generating diverse kinds of leprosies.


  • Medical tip of the day: if your phlegm is the color of the background on that page, you may have a lung or sinus infection.

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  • I told him that the phlegm was a vegetable called nostoc, and he thereupon concluded that too much learning had turned my brain, and, fully persuaded of his own complete knowledge of nature, was pleased to be very facetious at my expense.

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  • The fact that he went on eating ham, and said to Clara, "Half a cup!" was proof positive of that mysterious quality called phlegm which had long enabled his country to enjoy the peace of a weedy duck-pond.

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  • Clara, "Half a cup!" was proof positive of that mysterious quality called phlegm which had long enabled his country to enjoy the peace of a weedy duck-pond.

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  • I think the meaning throws a lot of people off this word. The massive consonant clusters really do something for me, though.

    December 7, 2009

  • worst word ever.

    October 16, 2008

  • Citation on besmirch.

    June 23, 2008