le·​o·​nine ˈlē-ə-ˌnīn How to pronounce leonine (audio)
: of, relating to, suggestive of, or resembling a lion

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Hear us roar! Most people or characters described as leonine aren’t cowardly (with one famous exception, of course), but rather noble, strong, regal, or possessed of similarly positive virtues associated with pride-forming big cats. Leonine clawed its way into the English language from the Latin word leo (“lion”), which in turn comes from the Greek word leōn. Today, we have an interesting range of words that relate back to leōn: leopard (leōn + pardos, a Greek word for a panther-like animal); chameleon (leōn + the Greek chamai, meaning “on the ground”); and the names Leo, Leon, and Leonard. But the dancer’s and gymnast’s leotard is not named for its wearer’s cat-like movements. Rather, it was simply named after its inventor, Jules Léotard, a 19th-century French aerial gymnast.

Example Sentences

a leonine mane of hair
Recent Examples on the Web As Governor Connally waved his big Stetson, revealing a leonine head of gray hair, the cheers swelled for him, too. Isaac Chotiner, The New Yorker, 4 Aug. 2021 Most famously, leonine tenor saxophonist Von Freeman remains a symbol of the music even after his death here in 2012, at age 88. Howard Reich, chicagotribune.com, 22 Sep. 2019 My flutter of fear caused by Morrison’s daunting, leonine presence, at the beginning of the semester, quickly settled into cheerful enthusiasm. Troy Patterson, The New Yorker, 7 Aug. 2019 Both young and old, Douglass had magnificent, leonine looks. Mark Feeney, BostonGlobe.com, 5 Apr. 2018 At the end of Donatella’s tribute the models created a tableau at the foot of the runway, posed like Greek statues in their chain mail dresses, leonine waves of hair cascading down their backs. Kate Betts, Town & Country, 31 Jan. 2018 An avid collector of leonine objects throughout her life, the designer scattered them throughout her apartment at 31 Rue Cambon. Vogue, 23 Jan. 2018 Louis, a slight Frenchman with jawbone sideburns and a leonine head of curls, would stroll by, comb and scissors in hand, and admonish his glamorous clients to flip their heads over in front of the mirror and shake out their dazzling tresses. Kate Betts, Town & Country, 4 Apr. 2016 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'leonine.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Middle English, from Latin leoninus, from leon-, leo

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of leonine was in the 14th century


Dictionary Entries Near leonine

Cite this Entry

“Leonine.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/leonine. Accessed 29 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


le·​o·​nine ˈlē-ə-ˌnīn How to pronounce leonine (audio)
: of, relating to, or resembling a lion

Medical Definition


le·​o·​nine ˈlē-ə-ˌnīn How to pronounce leonine (audio)
: of or relating to leprotic leontiasis
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