• (British, America) IPA: /flɛm/

phlegm (uncountable)

  1. (historical) One of the four humors making up the body in ancient and mediaeval medicine; said to be cold and moist, and often identified with mucus. [from 13th c.]
    • 1993, William Dalrymple, City of Djinns, HarperCollins 1993:
      Each person's unique mixture of these substances determines his temperament: a predominance of blood gives a sanguine temperament; a predominance of phlegm makes one phlegmatic; yellow bile, bilious (or choleric); and black bile, melancholic.
  2. Viscid mucus produced by the body, later especially mucus expelled from the bronchial passages by coughing. [from 14th c.]
    • 2005, "Endangered Species?" Hannah Beech, Time, 14 Nov 2005:
      "Even some members of the new bourgeoisie indulge in conspicuously boorish behavior, like hawking phlegm onto the pavement or picking their noses at business meetings."
  3. (historical, chemistry, alchemy) A watery distillation, especially one obtained from plant matter; an aqueous solution. [from 16th c.]
  4. Calmness of temperament, composure; also seen negatively, sluggishness, indifference. [from 16th c.]
    • 1942, "Warning to Sweden", Time, 5 Oct 1942:
      But Swedish Nazis also talked of the necessity of saving Sweden from Bolshevism, and with the menacing Berlin radio gnawing in their ears many Swedes lost their Scandinavian phlegm.
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