What does ‘splenetic’ mean?

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Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: splenetic…

When my reader, John Friesen, emailed me the word splenetic I had to confess I hadn’t encountered it before. He discovered it in the March 19/16 Washington Post. Here’s how writer Todd Gitlin used it:

The menace of the late 1960s eventually subsided as Richard M. Nixon harnessed his “silent majority” to calm the political climate early in his presidency as the ultra-radicals burned through whatever base of sympathy they had started with. But today’s chaos won’t be so easy to stop. The splenetic fury Trump taps may be immutable, and no Nixon is on the horizon to focus it.

I could immediately recognize the word’s root: spleen.  An organ found in almost all vertebrate animals, it acts as a filter for purifying the blood, removing microbes and worn out or damaged red blood cells. It also produces white blood cells that fight infection and synthesize antibodies.

Indeed, the adjective — which is derived from the Late Latin word spleneticus meaning “pertaining to the spleen”— today means ill-tempered, angry, cross or peevish. A useful word in election season!