Definition of physiognomy in US English:



  • 1A person's facial features or expression, especially when regarded as indicative of character or ethnic origin.

    • ‘I can't speak for others, but I should have clarified that the unattractive wraithishness of the Olsons is more a function of the musk of moral turpitude seeping from their ‘image’ than of their actual physiognomies.’
    • ‘The kindest men do not suffer and the most terrible people do not have unkind physiognomies.’
    • ‘How people are treated in court, how they are charged and how they are sentenced is a direct reflection of what race they are assigned by the physiognomy presented to the world.’
    • ‘No mention is made by Howells of physiognomy or racial features, so that, as many recent critical studies have emphasized, on this occasion one would have needed to ask Portia's question: which is the merchant here and which the Jew?’
    • ‘There is a tradition in high art - the kind Bacon made - of studying, or fantasising, the head itself, mapping the extremes of expression and physiognomy.’
    • ‘By the later eighteenth century, Johann Caspar Lavater insisted on profile silhouettes as the most stable means of representing physiognomies.’
    • ‘Although, at 39, Will Self is approaching mid-life and he can see the ‘lowering storm of age and extinction’ ahead of him, there is still certainly nothing in his prose or his physiognomy to suggest that he will become flabby or paunchy.’
    • ‘This aside, however, it seems that even in Brazil the term is especially applicable to certain nationalities and physiognomies: all foreigners are gringos but some gringos are more gringo than others.’
    • ‘These dislocated physiognomies are searing psychic masks whose crazed features seem to express the artist's creative and psychological isolation.’
    • ‘Differential inclusion inevitably seems to include those whose approximation of the physiognomy of whiteness has attained a degree of mimetic efficacy through markers of race and class.’
    • ‘According to late medieval beliefs that went back to Aristotelian ideas, the exemplary characters of uomini famosi would have expressed themselves in their physiognomies and gestures as much as in their deeds.’
    • ‘The exquisite design work and miniature sets, the jerky marionettes with eerily lifelike physiognomies, the constant explosions and of course the titular Thunderbird crafts never looked better than in these two grand features.’
    • ‘Her hair and facial features were indistinct, and the only part of her physiognomy that was vivid were her eyes, which were the color of stars.’
    • ‘And we do frequently identify people on this basis too - I recognize someone walking down the hall as the dean of the college by his physiognomy, attire, voice, etc.’
    • ‘There's something faintly oriental about her oval face and the slight downward slant of her eyes, a physiognomy which she admits has helped her become well established all over the world as Cio-Cio-San.’
    • ‘Perhaps being disposed to look for affinities, I do see something to connect the physiognomies, in a certain fleshiness of the features, the long prominent noses, the deep upper lips.’
    • ‘The heads of state could be read and debunked in the flourishing art of caricature, and people delighted in decoding the physiognomy of the ordinary faces that crowded the pages of the popular press.’
    • ‘Say ‘Jekyll and Hyde’, and the person you are speaking to will see in the mind's eye Spencer Tracy's amiably pudgy features dissolving into the monstrous physiognomy of Edward Hyde.’
    • ‘But this woman has committed to memory all the essentials of her own physiognomy, and can conjure up, time and again, her own basic likeness without resorting to a mirror.’
    • ‘A large number of pieces, for instance, have Asian features; their physiognomies were based on a Belgian Art Nouveau bust that he found in a flea market.’
    face, features, profile
    face, features, countenance, profile
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 The supposed art of judging character from facial characteristics.
      • ‘Yet what emerges after Aristotle is a complex relationship between the classical mode of reading and judging character - physiognomy - and the rise and triumph of inner, scientific understandings of expression based on physiology.’
      • ‘He used this time to study formal logic, social psychology, physiognomy, and craniometry, which laid the foundations of a broad approach in medicine.’
      • ‘I told him I was new to painting, not to physiognomy.’
      • ‘The paper focused on physiognomy, which suggests that the ‘beauty’ under discussion is a natural endowment.’
      • ‘Lavater linked silhouettes to the ‘science’ of physiognomy, which aimed to discern a person's character from their facial features.’
      • ‘The science of physiognomy was of particular importance to the ancient Greeks.’
      • ‘Many bigots and racists still use physiognomy to judge character and personality.’
      • ‘Some palmistry mimics metoposcopy or physiognomy.’
      • ‘There is no doubt that Charles Darwin was sceptical about the claims of physiognomy with regard to expression and emotion.’
      • ‘With the figures of Duchene, Warhol and Sherman as anchors, Sobieszek ranges a near full history of physiognomy, pathognomy and phrenology from Aristotle to Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.’
      • ‘Biometrics posits that there are unique, measurable, and permanent physical features, which is why this science - like physiognomy before it - has difficulty with the simple fact that people change.’
    2. 1.2 The general form or appearance of something.
      ‘the physiognomy of the landscape’
      • ‘The physiognomy of the city and the bearing of its inhabitants share the portentous aspect of a drama.’
      • ‘Trends in cuticular species richness parallel inferred changes in vegetation physiognomy and biomass.’
      • ‘I'm put off by the rote lingo of liturgies, and I can never quite square the exceedingly European Jesus of my childhood lesson books with the physiognomy of the region.’
      • ‘Today, some restingas still suffer man-made impact through fire or cattle, but even apparently pristine areas display an open physiognomy.’
      • ‘They appropriated the symbolic authority, as well as the physiognomy of the architecture.’
      • ‘The attempt to create the mirage of value through speculative activities independent of the production process had a profound effect on the character of American capitalism and the social physiognomy of its ruling elite.’
      • ‘But in the half-century that had passed since Robespierre's Jacobins waged their life and death struggle against feudal reaction, the economic structure and social physiognomy of Europe had changed.’
      • ‘Distance estimation to unseen birds is difficult, because attenuation of bird vocalizations is affected by vegetation type and physiognomy, position of the bird relative to the observer, and song or call pitch.’
      • ‘This larger confederation would in turn be a particular state, with its own personality, its own interests, its own physiognomy.’
      • ‘The description of the ‘new’ working class dance halls in this passage emphasizes the rising importance of the proletariat for the city's physiognomy.’
      • ‘Men would not have found the means of independent life; they would simply have discovered (no easy task) a new physiognomy of servitude.’
      • ‘The end of the Cold War and the eruption of US militarism have vindicated the analysis of imperialism made by Lenin, who characterized its political physiognomy as ‘reaction all along the line.’’
      • ‘In these revisions of the still life, he addresses himself to the latencies that everyday objects hold, patiently brings to light the secret lives that their workaday physiognomies disguise.’
      • ‘The approach towards these limits gives rise to significant changes in the physiognomy of the capitalist economy.’
      • ‘The regional physiognomy is characterized by broad ridges and rugged dissected stream valleys cutting through sedimentary rocks and scattered igneous knobs.’
      • ‘Scrub with a slightly different physiognomy is present in two areas north of the river.’
      • ‘The basic political physiognomy of the UAW remains the same today as it was during the Cold War, above all its fear of socialism and hatred of its Marxist opponents.’
      • ‘For the lovely Larghetto in II, Bilson gives each note its own character, even its own physiognomy.’
      • ‘Thus it's hardly surprising that the distinctive physiognomy of the mountain is integral to the drawn and photographed records of the city, and has provided an ongoing source of inspiration to her poets, artists and writers.’
      • ‘The opera houses of Charles Garnier in Paris and Gottfried Semper in Dresden are memorable precisely because their expressive physiognomy is a kind of exultant precis of the spaces and happenings within.’


Late Middle English: from Old French phisonomie, via medieval Latin from Greek phusiognōmonia ‘judging of a man's nature (by his features)’, based on gnōmōn ‘a judge, interpreter’.