Word of the Month: Abstemious

David Zapatka

Thinking about buying a new car recently, reader Tom Mohr was researching a Car and Driver publication for the 2017 Honda CR-V. In the first-drive-review section of the article, the “highs” were listed – spacious inside, abstemious at the pump, quiet cabin, excellent steering. Reading “abstemious at the pump” prompted Tom to research the word “abstemious,” which further prompted this month’s WOTM column. What does the word “abstemious” mean and what was it describing when it said the Honda CR-V was abstemious at the pump?

Abstemious – adjective ab·ste·mi·ous ab-ˈstē-mē-əs

1. marked by restraint especially in the consumption of food or alcohol

2. reflecting such restraint

Abstemiously – adverb; abstemiousness – noun

Synonyms – self-denying, temperate, abstinent, moderate, self-disciplined, self-restrained, sober, austere, ascetic, puritanical, spartan.

Origin of abstemious 1615-25; Latin abstēmius, equivalent to abs- abs- + tēm – (base of tēmētum intoxicating drink) + -ius -ious.

Examples of abstemious in a sentence:

1. Being abstemious diners, they avoid restaurants with all-you-can-eat buffets.

2. Because I was abstemious with alcohol when I was younger, I am still quite healthy in my later years.

3. While Mr. Johnson was quite abstemious with his meals, he always put out a big feast when he had guests over for dinner.

4. The buffet was huge and included healthy snacks for abstemious eaters as well as large entrees for insatiable individuals.

5. Although my husband is normally abstemious with his money, he will buy a ticket to a football game in a minute.

6. Even though Mrs. Peterson was a very wealthy woman, she still lived an abstemious life and only spent money on the basic essentials.

Historical Examples

* For this they work most energetically; living in the most abstemious manner, in order that they may not break into their hoard. A Tramp’s Wallet, by William Duthie

* This, with good reason, is attributed to their abstemious lives. Alcohol: A Dangerous and Unnecessary Medicine, How and Why, by Martha M. Allen

* He ate on, rapidly but abstemiously, and finished before Mr. Bylash, who had had twenty minutes’ start of him. Queed, by Henry Sydnor Harrison

“Abstemious” and “abstain” look alike, and both have meanings involving self-restraint or self-denial. So it may appear that they must both come from the same root. Well, yes and no. Both get their start from the Latin prefix abs-, meaning “from” or “away,” but “abstain” traces to “abs-” plus the Latin verb tenere (meaning “to hold”), while “abstemious” gets its “-temious” from a suffix akin to the Latin noun temetum, meaning “intoxicating drink.” So, yes, they are alike but have different meanings.

Using “abstemious” in an advertisement showing a car consuming little gasoline was novel and effective in getting readers’ attention. Please use no abstemiousness when deciding to submit any thoughts you may have on this month’s column or any word you may like to share with our readers along with your insights and comments to [email protected]