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

Definition of phrenology

: the study of the conformation of the skull based on the belief that it is indicative of mental faculties and character

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Other Words from phrenology

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

Examples of phrenology in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web 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, "Jamie Loftus, the Comedian Who Infiltrated Mensa," 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, "Wanted: The Missing Bones of a Scottish ‘Witch’," 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, "Pioneers of Cultural Relativism," 14 Aug. 2019 In the summer of 1868, in sweltering Barbados, a man named W.D. Maxwell, a native of the island, gave a series of public lectures on the subject of phrenology. Christoph Irmscher, WSJ, "‘Materials of the Mind’ Review: The Lost Art of Reading Bumps," 22 May 2019 What about Holocaust denial or whatever modern incarnation of phrenology posits that black people lack sufficient intellect to vote? Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, "Why let the Klan march at a private historically black college? ‘This is not a First Amendment thing, man.’," 31 May 2018 Pseudosciences like phrenology were used to politely assert the inferiority of black people. Danielle Tcholakian, Longreads, "The Myth of Kevin Williamson," 7 Apr. 2018 The movie talks a bit about the pseudoscientific lineage of this kind of thought — phrenology, eugenics and other attempts to use data to enforce social hierarchies. John Defore, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Alt-Right: Age of Rage': Film Review | SXSW 2018," 10 Mar. 2018 Pseudosciences such as phrenology and eugenics have attempted to ascribe a biological rationalization for the oppression of certain groups. Harry Bruinius, The Christian Science Monitor, "Meritocracy and the history of the science of biological differences," 26 Aug. 2017

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

1805, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for phrenology

Greek phren-, phrēn

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The first known use of phrenology was in 1805

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Cite this Entry

“Phrenology.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Aug. 2020.

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More Definitions for phrenology


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

Medical Definition of phrenology

: the former study of the conformation of the skull based on the belief that it is indicative of mental faculties and character

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