In So Many Words

Info-Comics by Larry Paros


Various Moods and Bodily Fluids

When's the last time you checked your precious bodily fluids? There's no better way to find out if you are in good humor.

Ancient medical practitioners believed that the body was dominated by four major fluids called, humors: blood, choler, phlegm, and black bile — the dominance of any one determining the temper of the mind and the body.

Blood left us disposed to hopefulness and confident of success, or sanguine — the literal meaning of which is "blood-red." Choler made us irascible and angry, or choleric. Mucous or phlegm left us, what else, but phlegmatic — unenthusiastic, sluggish and apathetic. Bile most frequently resulted in melancholy, but when aroused, also produced rage and indignation, leaving us in a bilious state.

Whether you were in good humor or ill humor depended on which fluid was dominant. English playwrights of the 16th-18th centuries got their laughs by depicting characters who were dominated by a single humor. This made them humorous, giving us our present day meaning of the word, "amusing" or "funny."

We have long since displaced these ancient fluids with "neurotransmitters" — the chemicals pulsing through our brain. Carrying such exotic names as norepenepherine, dopamine, and serotonin, they have been endowed with the power to shape our moods and emotions.

When you ask people the source of their emotional imbalance, they often single out these same chemicals for blame. "The neurotransmitters did it," they proclaim. The solution is pretty straightforwar — -more chemicals — a round or two of Wellbutrin or Xanax perhaps.

As to the role they, themselves, might play in having contributed to their condition, or their responsibility in addressing it, their response is but a dopey and sullen grimace. Not only don't they have a clue, they can't even see the humor in it.