• In a state of extreme anger

  • Dark blue or purplish in color

  • (rare) Wan and unhealthy looking


Have you ever made anyone mad enough that they turned red in the face? Maybe you were starting to beat someone in Scrabble, and your opponent was starting to get angry (let's say she had a serious case of sour grapes). Okay, we've all seen that, but what about the next level of rage - like if your Scrabble opponent got so frustrated with you blocking her words that she became positively irate? Her face might turn grayish purple with fury, a sure sign that someone has crossed the threshold and become livid. At this point, you might want to pack up your tiles and just call it a draw - an eruption might be on the way….

An eruption would actually be par for the course for someone who's livid, a word which most frequently describes a person as utterly infuriated. This is not a word to use for someone who's simply irked, testy, or just in a bit of a snit. Nope, livid suggests a passionate, all-consuming rage, the type of uninhibited anger that results in shouting matches and cartoon steam coming out of someone's ears. If you're livid, you've got a real problem, and you're probably not bothering to hide your wrath. A livid person's anger is close to being out of control, often resulting in bodily signs of distress like shaking and a rush of blood to the face.

The idea of rage causing blood to rush into someone's face is helpful in explaining another meaning of livid. When it originally entered English, livid was used to describe things that were dark blue or gray, a role it still plays (albeit less commonly) today. Sometimes, the use of the word in this way can also convey a sense of portentousness or unease, as if something big and possibly scary is about to happen. Things that are livid in color include a leaden sea before a storm, a deep, angry bruise, and, well, the alarmingly purple face of someone who's really, really ticked at you.

A little oddly, livid also sometimes describes things that are deathly, unhealthily pale. Yes, "pale" and "dark bluish" sound like opposites, but hear us out. Livid is strongly associated with the ashen gray of bruises and discolored, unhealthy skin; it's not a huge leap, then, to imagine how it could also be used to refer to the pallid hue of a corpse (at least, it wasn't to the people of a few centuries ago). This sense would be expanded to refer to anything that was wan or pasty, especially a person whose face was flushed with anger. You're most likely to encounter this meaning in literature; today, livid in speech more commonly means "purple with rage," or even simply "purple."

When describing feelings of anger, it's common to say that someone is livid with rage, fury, or any other synonym for extreme irritation. In this case, livid specifically refers to the pale or deep purple color that someone's face turns during a spell of wrath. Blood rushing in, blood draining out - either way, you might want to take shelter from someone who's livid.

Example: My sister was positively livid when she saw how badly I'd dented her car.

Example: Her partner's livid glare told Kayla that she'd crossed a line.

Example: Within a few minutes, the snakebite had become swollen and livid.

Example: I hadn't realized how bad my daughter's cold was until I saw her drawn and livid face.


Livid's earliest ancestor is the Proto-Indo-European sliwo-, which marked things that were blue-gray or purplish in color. This would serve as the basis of the Latin verb livere, which means "to be blue or blue-like in color." Latin would associate a deep, purplish blue with negative feelings through use of lividus, the adjective form of livere. Lividus, which characterized things literally as "bruised-gray and blue" and metaphorically as "full of malice, resentment, or jealousy," would inspire a French word of the same meanings, livide. Both livide and lividus would contribute directly to the development of livid, which first arose in English meaning "dark blue or dull gray" in the early fifteenth century. Although frequently used to describe the color of an infuriated face, livid's figurative and now most familiar meaning would take until the early twentieth century to fully develop.

Derivative Words

Lividness: This noun can refer either to extreme anger or a dark-purple, grayish color.

Example: Having thought she wouldn't care if I drank her milk, I was surprised at her lividness.

Example: The thunderheads' lividness seemed to reflect their unsettled mood.

Lividity: Lividity is a noun that can be used in the same ways as lividness. Lividity, though, sometimes specifically refers to the blue-black of bruising or coagulating blood, especially following death. This last phenomenon is sometimes called dependent lividity or postmortem lividity.

Example: Recognizing my roommate's lividity, I tried to apologize for drinking the last of her milk, and I even attempted a lame joke.

Example: The lividity of my arm where my roommate had punched me made me consider going to a doctor.

Lividly: This adverb characterizes a verb, adjective, or other adverb as resulting from rage.

Example: The antagonistic dogs growled lividly at each other.

Example: Principal Hoover was known for being lividly forceful in his punishments.

Similar Words

Another name for postmortem lividity and dependent lividity is livor mortis. Livor mortis translates (roughly) to "the blueness or bruising of death."

In Literature

From J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets:

He [Mr. Malfoy] got up, face livid, and pulled out his wand, but Dobby raised a long, threatening finger. "You shall go now," he said fiercely, pointing down at Mr. Malfoy. "You shall not touch Harry Potter. You shall go now."

Livid is used here to refer to the irate, and likely purplish, expression of Mr. Malfoy, who is quite angry at Harry Potter for setting Dobby the house elf free.

From Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West:

All night sheetlightning quaked sourceless to the west beyond the midnight thunderheads, making a bluish day of the distant desert, the mountains on the sudden skyline stark and black and livid like a land of some other order out there whose true geology was not stone but fear.

In this somewhat dense sentence, McCarthy uses livid as a companion of "stark" and "black" in order to characterize the mountainous landscape as dark, mysterious, and inspiring fear.


  • Make someone too livid, not long might you be livin'

  • Livid gives in to rage


Color, Blue, Gray, Bruises, Blood, Anger, Rage

Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of livid. Did you use livid in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.