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  • silhouette
  • audio pronunciation
  • \sil-uh-WET\


a : a picture (as a drawing or cutout) of the outline of an object filled in with a solid usually black color b : a profile portrait done in silhouette
: the shape or outline of something; especially : the outline of an object seen or as if seen against the light

"The tree-tops rose against the luminous blue sky in inky silhouette, and all below that outline melted into one formless blackness." — H. G. Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau, 1896

"This is not a season for shoehorning yourself into your pants. Painted-on is out, and loose, slouchy silhouettes are in." — Christine Whitney and Jessica Prince, Harper's Bazaar, April 2014


Before the age of the photograph, the silhouette, either cut from paper or painted, was the most affordable portrait that could be made. The art enjoyed a golden age in the second half of the 18th and first half of the 19th centuries, when many people collected them. Although silhouettes were well-loved, the man for whom they were named was not: Étienne de Silhouette was France's finance minister under Louis XV and was notorious for both his frugality and his hobby of making cut-paper shadow portraits. The phrase "à la Silhouette" came to mean "on the cheap," and portraits like the ones he produced were (satirically) bestowed with his name as well.

Test Your Memory: What is the meaning of "fracking," our Word of the Day from June 26? The answer is …

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Theme music by Joshua Stamper ©2006 New Jerusalem Music/ASCAP


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