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I remember reading this word in the writings of Anthony Burgess. I think it began with an 'r' and could also be used in a medical context when describing facial paralysis. Can anyone help me out?

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up vote 30 down vote accepted

The word is rictus.

ODO has:

rictus: A fixed grimace or grin: their faces were each frozen in a terrified rictus

Vocabulary.com adds:

A rictus is a frozen, fake smile. If the star of a play finds herself overcome by stage fright, she might forget her lines and stand, trembling, her mouth twisted into a rictus.

And Wikipedia gives the medical usage:

Risus sardonicus or rictus grin is a highly characteristic, abnormal, sustained spasm of the facial muscles that appears to produce grinning.

The name of the condition, which has its roots in the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, derives from the appearance of raised eyebrows and an open "grin" – which can appear sardonic or malevolent to the lay observer – displayed by those suffering from these muscle spasms.

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I think that's it. Thanks! – Jimmy_Rustle Mar 28 at 9:09
I always imagine something terrible going on when I picture someone with a rictus grin. Like some malevolent force has frozen their face, so despite their true feelings, the people just have this mask they are stuck behind. – Wayne Werner Mar 28 at 20:58

You may also be looking for the slightly more colloquial phrase Stepford Smile.

Unfortunately, the only approximate definition I can find appears to be a TVTropes page:

The Stepford Smiler is obsessed with projecting an image of wholesome happiness in order to be accepted by her peers.

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Welcome to the site. It's customary here to give a link to a reference, and a definition when one is available online. Otherwise your answer may get closed. – jimm101 Mar 28 at 23:37
Have added a dubious source, am prepared for oblivion. Sorry about that. If it's inappropriate, I'll delete it later. – KGVT Mar 28 at 23:44
Looks good to me ... it's a gray zone. The down votes can be related to how well people think you answered the question. Given the question was asking for a word beginning with 'r' and has a well up-voted answer, it's not too surprising that you're getting down votes. – jimm101 Mar 28 at 23:46

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