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  1. Veterinary Pathology.
    1. Also called canine distemper.an infectious disease chiefly of young dogs, caused by an unidentified virus and characterized by lethargy, fever, catarrh, photophobia, and vomiting.
    2. Also called colt distemper, equine distemper, strangles.an infectious disease of horses, caused by the bacillus Streptococcus equi and characterized by catarrh of the upper air passages and the formation of pus in the submaxillary and other lymphatic glands.
    3. Also called cat distemper, feline agranulocytosis, feline distemper, feline infectious enteritis, feline panleukopenia.a usually fatal viral disease of cats, characterized by fever, vomiting, and diarrhea, leading to severe dehydration.
  2. a deranged condition of mind or body; a disorder or disease: a feverish distemper.
  3. disorder or disturbance, especially of a political nature.
verb (used with object)
  1. Obsolete. to derange physically or mentally.

Origin of distemper1

1300–50; Middle English distemp(e)ren, destempren (v.) (< Middle French destemprer) < Medieval Latin distemperāre, equivalent to Latin dis- dis-1 + temperāre to temper
Related formsdis·tem·pered·ly, adverbdis·tem·pered·ness, noun


  1. Art.
    1. a technique of decorative painting in which glue or gum is used as a binder or medium to achieve a mat surface and rapid drying.
    2. (formerly) the tempera technique.
  2. a painting executed by this method.
  3. British. whitewash; calcimine.
verb (used with object)
  1. to paint in distemper.
  2. British. to whitewash a wall, cottage, etc.; calcimine.

Origin of distemper2

1350–1400; Middle English distemperen (v.) (< Anglo-French distemprer) < Medieval Latin distemperāre to dissolve, dilute, equivalent to Latin dis- dis-1 + temperāre to blend, temper
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for distemper

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • Well, I hope just as I get fond of them they will not have the distemper and die!

  • My distemper was a pleurisy, which very nearly carried me off.

  • They say when horses have distemper he takes the medicine himself, and then prays over the horses.

    O Pioneers!

    Willa Cather

  • The French had coined a name for the distemper and called it folie d'Afrique.

    The Explorer

    W. Somerset Maugham

  • Finding him a man of reason, I entered into the bottom of his distemper.

    Isaac Bickerstaff

    Richard Steele

British Dictionary definitions for distemper


  1. any of various infectious diseases of animals, esp canine distemper, a highly contagious viral disease of dogs, characterized initially by high fever and a discharge from the nose and eyesSee also hard pad, strangles
  2. archaic
    1. a disease or disorder
    2. disturbance
    3. discontent
  1. (tr) archaic to disturb

Word Origin

C14: from Late Latin distemperāre to derange the health of, from Latin dis- 1 + temperāre to mix in correct proportions


  1. a technique of painting in which the pigments are mixed with water, glue, size, etc, used for poster, mural, and scene painting
  2. the paint used in this technique or any of various water-based paints, including, in Britain, whitewash
  1. (tr) to mix (pigments) with water and size
  2. to paint (something) with distemper

Word Origin

C14: from Medieval Latin distemperāre to soak, from Latin dis- 1 + temperāre to mingle
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for distemper


mid-14c., "to disturb," from Old French destemprer, from Medieval Latin distemperare "vex, make ill," literally "upset the proper balance (of bodily humors)," from dis- "un-, not" (see dis-) + Latin temperare "mingle in the proper proportion" (see temper (v.)). Related: Distempered.


1550s, from distemper (v.); in reference to a disease of dogs, from 1747.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

distemper in Medicine


  1. An infectious viral disease occurring in dogs, characterized by loss of appetite, a catarrhal discharge from the eyes and nose, vomiting, partial paralysis, and sometimes death.
  2. A similar viral disease of cats characterized by fever, vomiting, diarrhea leading to dehydration, and sometimes death.
  3. Any of various similar mammalian diseases.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

distemper in Science


  1. An infectious disease occurring especially in dogs, caused by the canine distemper virus of the genus Morbillivirus. It is characterized by loss of appetite, a discharge from the eyes and nose, vomiting, fever, lethargy, partial paralysis caused by destruction of myelinated nerve tissue, and sometimes death.
  2. An infectious disease of cats caused by the feline panleukopenia virus of the genus Parvovirus, characterized by fever, vomiting, diarrhea leading to dehydration, and sometimes death.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.