Anyone else like to watch Forged in Fire? If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s a competition show where smiths are forging knives. So fascinating! Watching that show has taught me that one of the most important things for steel is that it’s well tempered.
Yeah…important for people too, we just don’t do it through heat-treating!
But have you ever wondered how the same word has come to be applied to both our temperaments and things like steel?
Temper, the noun, comes from temper, the verb, which has traveled through the various forms of English from the Latin temperare, which means observe proper measure, be moderate, restrain oneself; mix correctly, mix in due proportion; regulate, rule, govern, manage.” So whether you’re doing it to yourself or to something else, the idea is that you’re reaching the correct measure or balance.
If you look at the root, you’ll notice it also looks a lot like tempus (time), which is no coincidence either. Etymologists aren’t exactly certain when tempus shifted from its root “stretch” to the time-sense of “measure,” but it’s definitely a change that happened back in the Latin days and has traveled forward into English for us.
It gained the meaning of “disposition” around 1590 in English, and by 1600 was specifically used for “calm state of mind” (a good temper). It wasn’t until 1828 that it’s recorded as being used for “bad temper.” That one surprised me, since it’s the primary usage today!