phre·​nol·​o·​gy | \ fri-ˈnä-lə-jē How to pronounce phrenology (audio) \

Definition of phrenology

: the study of the conformation and especially the contours of the skull based on the former belief that they are indicative of mental faculties and character

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Other Words from phrenology

phrenological \ ˌfre-​nə-​ˈlä-​ji-​kəl How to pronounce phrenology (audio) , ˌfrē-​ \ adjective
phrenologist \ fri-​ˈnä-​lə-​jist How to pronounce phrenology (audio) \ noun

Examples of phrenology in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web In Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine, Duchenne laid important foundations for both Darwin and Ekman, connecting older ideas from physiognomy and phrenology with more modern investigations into physiology and psychology. Kate Crawford, The Atlantic, 27 Apr. 2021 Microclimate and phrenology are explained with clarity and sufficient depth. Sally Peterson, oregonlive, 23 Apr. 2021 With its title mocking the attempts of phrenology to diminish the worth of African Americans, Smith paints dignified portraits of everyday black people—a bootblack, a washerman—as examples of the unique personalities inherent to every human being. Bryan Greene, Smithsonian Magazine, 26 Feb. 2021 But others disliked the stench of charlatanism that clung to any ideas associated with phrenology. Grace Huckins, Wired, 17 Aug. 2020 Some of these were fads, such as phrenology (the idea that personality or psychology could be determined by the shape of the head). Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 22 Dec. 2020 One of Mensa’s co-founders, Roland Berrill, believed in the pseudoscience of phrenology, which involves measuring skulls to predict mental ability. Cat Zhang, The New Yorker, 9 Mar. 2020 Paton, a practitioner of phrenology, a pseudo-science that makes inferences about mental faculties and character traits based on the shape of the skull, took particular interest in Adie’s cranium. Brigit Katz, Smithsonian, 3 Sep. 2019 Visitors could have their cranial measurements taken on the spot, in keeping with the voguish interest in phrenology. Patrick Iber, The New Republic, 14 Aug. 2019

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

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First Known Use of phrenology

1815, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for phrenology

Greek phren-, phrḗn "midriff, seat of the passions, mind, wits" + -o- + -logy — more at frenetic

Note: In reference to the study of the skull as a guide to the mind, the word was introduced by the English physician and astronomer Thomas Ignatius Maria Forster (1789-1860) in the essay "Sketch of the new Anatomy and Physiology of the Brain and Nervous System of Drs. Gall and Spurzheim, considered as comprehending a complete system of Phrenology," The Pamphleteer, vol. 5, no. 9 (February, 1815), pp. 219-43; and also in "Observations on a new System of Phrenology, or the Anatomy and Physiology of the Brain, of Drs. Gall and Spurzheim," The Philosophical Magazine and Journal, vol. 45 (January-June, 1815), pp. 44-63. As indicated by the titles, Forster gave a name to a system already in existence, introduced by the German anatomist Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828) and Johann Spurzheim (1776-1832). The word phrenology had been in use slightly earlier as a more general name for the scientific study of the mind.

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The first known use of phrenology was in 1815

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phrenosinic acid

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Cite this Entry

“Phrenology.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Aug. 2021.

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More Definitions for phrenology


phre·​nol·​o·​gy | \ fri-ˈnäl-ə-jē How to pronounce phrenology (audio) \

Medical Definition of phrenology

: the study of the conformation and especially the contours of the skull based on the former belief that they are indicative of mental faculties and character

More from Merriam-Webster on phrenology Encyclopedia article about phrenology


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