There are lots of ways to say angry. Some of the words, like incensed, or irritated, indicate a mild increase in agitation. Everyone gets those emotions from time to time, such as when you drop an eggshell into the mixing bowl, or run over a pothole. It’s no big deal. The emotion comes and goes, and life continues on.
But when someone is livid, that person is in an exaggerated and highly explosive level of fury. Livid is a word with an interesting history. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary traces its origins in this way:
French livide, from Latin lividus, from livēre to be blue; akin to Welsh lliw color and probably to Russian sliva plum.
It’s a veritable Olympic source of origin, and it may surprise you to hear that color has something to do with livid. It’s not hard to imagine the red-faced person who has become livid, and that may have something to do with the alternate meaning of the word, having to do with fury. But the actual reference to color is not red…it is the black and blue coloring that occurs when someone has been damaged. The term is a medical term, used frequently to describe a bruise. Maybe the Russian sliva (plum) comes closest to our contemporary meaning of the word, although plum coloring is somewhat of a genteel way of describing the red face of a person when she is livid.
Neil Websdale, a psychologist published by Oxford Press, talks about livid coercion as a factor in brutal homicide. He describes it as an out-of-control method of achieving coercion over a victim. The rage and fury of the perpetrator is uncontrollable and ultimately leads to murder.
That is not the level of meaning we usually observe when we see someone we describe as livid. I see this person most frequently in a sports setting, where a fan (a shortened form of the word fanatic) is absolutely convinced that his team has been robbed of a victory by a bad call by an official. There is loud, coarse language, redness of face, spewing of spittle, throwing of beer cans, agitation leading to a fight with people around him, and maybe even a heart attack or stroke. It happens all the time.
Road rage is another form of someone demonstrating that they are livid. As we know from experience, a livid driver who believes he has been cut off or otherwise inconvenienced in travel (how’s that for softening the meaning?) “throws a fit” and curses, offers obscene gestures, may even get out of the car and approach the supposed violator. Livid road ragers have been known to follow the offending car, pull the driver out of the car, and engage them in a fight. It is not unheard of for a livid driver to pull a gun and shoot the supposedly-offending driver.
And then, of course, there is faux livid. I just made that term up. But, in my mind, a person demonstrating faux livid behavior is pretending to be outraged in order to gain attention. It is the politician in Congress who is “outraged” by something the President has said or done. Or, the Member of Congress who wants to get TV time for being “highly offended” by something a colleague has said. Given that there may be times when the emotion is almost legitimate, much of the time it is what is known in soccer as “a flop.” The person is not really damaged to the degree that he is demonstrating, but it makes for good video.
As for me, I’m livid with myself when I have forgotten to do something. (It is more and more common as I age.) Or I’m livid when I get a rejection letter from a publisher. Not really. I’m disappointed, upset, or discouraged. But it’s kind of fun to say that I’m livid. The publisher didn’t do anything wrong, other than tell me that my piece I have submitted is awful. It probably is.
Photo Credit: 365daysof vocab