Printable Version
Pronunciation: kawn-tê-nêns Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, Verb

Meaning: 1. (Noun) The face, facial features or facial expression. 2. (Verb) To tolerate, permit, allow.

Notes: Today's word is a longer but more elegant way of expressing the word face. It has been used so long as a verb that the verbal sense has drifted far away from the original noun's meaning.

In Play: The advantage of this word over face is that it can also refer to facial expression: "Fred is a lousy poker player because his countenance always betrays his hand; he can't for the life of him maintain a poker face." If you are a teenager and want to impress your parents, try something like this: "Why won't you countenance my staying out late?"

Word History: Today's Good Word was borrowed from Old French contenance "demeanor, bearing, conduct". French inherited it legally from Latin continentia "restraint, moderation", literally "the way one contains oneself", based on continen(t)s, the present participle of continere "to contain". The meaning evolved through the 14th century from "appearance" to "facial expression" to simply "face" itself. Latin continere "to hold together, enclose" is made up of com- "(together) with" + tenere "to hold". The Latin word comes from PIE root ten- "to stretch". The same root turned up in Sanskrit as tantram "loom" and tanoti "stretches, lasts", Persian tar "string", visible today in sitar, the Indian stringed instrument, and guitar, Lithuanian tankus "compact, packed", Greek teinein "to stretch", tetanos "stiff, rigid", tonos "string", hence "sound, pitch, tone". Latin converted the PIE word to tendere "to stretch" and tenuis "thin, fine", found in the English borrowings tension, tender, and tenuous. English also inherited the word directly from its Germanic ancestors as thin.

Dr. Goodword,

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