phys·​i·​og·​no·​my | \ ˌfi-zē-ˈä(g)-nə-mē How to pronounce physiognomy (audio) \
plural physiognomies

Definition of physiognomy

1 : the art of discovering temperament and character from outward appearance
2 : the facial features held to show qualities of mind or character by their configuration or expression
3 : external aspect also : inner character or quality revealed outwardly

Examples of physiognomy in a Sentence

He and his son have the same distinctive physiognomy.
Recent Examples on the Web Lavater took the approaches of physiognomy and blended them with the latest scientific knowledge. Kate Crawford, The Atlantic, "Why We Shouldn’t Trust AI to Tell Us What We Feel," 27 Apr. 2021 At one point, the conversation turned to physiognomy, the pseudoscientific judgment of a person’s character based on their facial features. New York Times, "What Happens When Our Faces Are Tracked Everywhere We Go?," 18 Mar. 2021 Years of chronic asthma and a fragile physiognomy left him relatively limited in his physical activity. Oliver Munday, The Atlantic, "Proust Made My Rote Pandemic Existence Unfamiliar Again," 1 Nov. 2020 Her images are a critique of pseudo-scientific studies in 19th- and early 20th-centuries that categorized racial groups according to their physiognomy as a way to assert the superiority of whites. Steven Litt,, "Transformer Station’s “I Sing the Body’’ surveys photographic interpretation of the human form," 14 July 2019 Some plastic surgeons have been educating themselves in physiognomy to advise their clients. The Economist, "Prophets and profitsIn South Korea fortune-telling will soon be a $3.7bn business," 24 Feb. 2018 But as the distortions start to affect the relations between the characters and their own physiognomy, things grow increasingly unreal. George Pendle, Esquire, "Alex Garland Mutated Annihilation Into a Psychedelic Sci-Fi Horror," 21 Feb. 2018 Hence the 19th century was the golden age of a pseudoscience known as physiognomy. Diana Gitig, Ars Technica, "Why our brains lead us astray when we take things at face value," 13 Aug. 2017 And each is distinct from the others in everything: physiognomy, hairstyle, clothes, even the lines in the palms of their hands. Klara Glowczewska, Town & Country, "Why Now Is the Time to Visit China," 14 July 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'physiognomy.' 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 physiognomy

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for physiognomy

Middle English phisonomie, from Anglo-French phisenomie, from Late Latin physiognomonia, physiognomia, from Greek physiognōmonia, from physiognōmōn judging character by the features, from physis nature, physique, appearance + gnōmōn interpreter — more at gnomon

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Time Traveler for physiognomy

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The first known use of physiognomy was in the 14th century

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Last Updated

2 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Physiognomy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 12 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for physiognomy



English Language Learners Definition of physiognomy

formal : the appearance of a person's face : a person's facial features


phys·​i·​og·​no·​my | \ ˌfiz-ē-ˈä(g)-nə-mē How to pronounce physiognomy (audio) \
plural physiognomies

Medical Definition of physiognomy

1 : the art of discovering temperament and character from outward appearance
2 : the facial features held to show qualities of mind or character by their configuration or expression

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