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  1. the thick mucus secreted in the respiratory passages and discharged through the mouth, especially that occurring in the lungs and throat passages, as during a cold.
  2. one of the four elemental bodily humors of medieval physiology, regarded as causing sluggishness or apathy.
  3. sluggishness, indifference, or apathy.
  4. self-possession, calmness, or composure.
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Origin of phlegm

1350–1400; Middle English fleem < Middle French flemme < Late Latin phlegma < Greek phlégma flame, phlegmatic humor, equivalent to phlég(ein) to burn + -ma resultative noun suffix
Related formsphlegm·less, adjective


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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for phlegm

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • There is a third class of diseases which are produced, some by wind and some by phlegm and some by bile.



  • Under Teuton phlegm lies an hysteria that rivals that of the Latin races.

  • A fellow of your phlegm should find pleasure in the contemplation of cabbages.

    The Lady of Loyalty House

    Justin Huntly McCarthy

  • One of Popes precepts is, to write with fury and correct with phlegm.

  • I am always annoyed with phlegm, but to-day I seem to snivel more than usual.


    Marcus Aurelius

British Dictionary definitions for phlegm


  1. the viscid mucus secreted by the walls of the respiratory tract
  2. archaic one of the four bodily humours
  3. apathy; stolidity; indifference
  4. self-possession; imperturbability; coolness
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Derived Formsphlegmy, adjective

Word Origin

C14: from Old French fleume, from Late Latin phlegma, from Greek: inflammation, from phlegein to burn
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 phlegm


late 14c., fleem "viscid mucus" (the stuff itself and also regarded as a bodily humor), from Old French fleume (13c., Modern French flegme), from Late Latin phlegma, one of the four humors of the body, from Greek phlegma "humor caused by heat," lit "inflammation, heat," from phlegein "to burn," related to phlox (genitive phlogos) "flame, blaze," from PIE *bhleg- "to shine, flash," from root *bhel- (1) "to shine, flash, burn" (see bleach (v.)). Modern form is attested from c.1660. The "cold, moist" humor of the body, in medieval physiology, it was believed to cause apathy.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

phlegm in Medicine


  1. Thick, sticky, stringy mucus secreted by the mucous membrane of the respiratory tract, as during a cold or other respiratory infection.
  2. One of the four humors of ancient and medieval physiology, thought to cause sluggishness, apathy, and evenness of temper.
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Related formsphlegmy adj.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

phlegm in Science


  1. Thick mucus produced by the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract, as during a cold or other respiratory infection.
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The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.