Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Word Wednesday: "Physiognomy"

The word for today (and a little history lesson) is physiognomy, which refers to the pseudoscience of studying the structure of a person's face to reveal their temperament and predispositions. This word was probably used 100 times in Jane Eyre. People of that era put a lot of faith in facial features and skull shape to reveal character. It was even used in police work to find criminals (it was closely associated with phrenology, the pseudoscience of measuring the skull and feeling its bumps to reveal a person's character). People with irregular features were often arrested for deeds they didn't commit simply because their face supposedly predisposed them to crime. Of course most of them were probably innocent. They couldn't help that they didn't have perfect faces.

Phrenology is still practiced by many people today who believe that a person's future can be felt in the bumps on their cranium.  But, like many Victorian practices, it is a hobby today and isn't used in psychology or forensic investigation (good news for those of us who may have bumpy heads!).

The Lonely Alchemist

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