phrenology

noun

phre·​nol·​o·​gy fri-ˈnä-lə-jē How to pronounce phrenology (audio)
: 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
phrenological adjective
phrenologist noun

Examples of phrenology in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Colorful phrenology charts—with tracts blocked off for human faculties like benevolence, appetite and language—can still be found in antiquated medical texts and the home decor sections of department stores. Marla Broadfoot, Smithsonian Magazine, 26 May 2023 Colorful phrenology charts — with tracts blocked off for human faculties like benevolence, appetite and language — can still be found in antiquated medical texts and the home decor sections of department stores. Marla Broadfoot, Discover Magazine, 21 May 2023 Modern neuroscience has been accused of being a ‘new phrenology‘, but now researchers have conducted a modern evaluation of phrenological claims using neuroscience methods. Neuroskeptic, Discover Magazine, 7 Jan. 2018 This is baby-talk phrenology. Brian T. Allen, National Review, 24 Mar. 2022 The result has been the perpetuation of racist, pseudoscientific practices like phrenology, mood reading software, and AIs that purport to know if you’re gay by how your face looks. Sydney Skybetter, Wired, 7 Feb. 2021 True-crime fans who have had a little bit too much screen time basically do phrenology on serial killers. Vulture, 8 Feb. 2023 The 19th century field of phrenology, for example, held that the shape of one’s skull could determine one’s propensity for criminality and violence. Gemma Tarlach, Discover Magazine, 31 Mar. 2016 Brain science has relied on metaphors for centuries, from hydraulic pumps to phrenology to the brain as a computer, as scientist-historian Matthew Cobb argued in his 2020 book, The Idea of the Brain. Eleanor Cummins, The New Republic, 10 Aug. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'phrenology.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

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.

First Known Use

1815, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of phrenology was in 1815

Dictionary Entries Near phrenology

Cite this Entry

“Phrenology.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/phrenology. Accessed 25 Sep. 2023.

Medical Definition

phrenology

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