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I keep seeing this word every couple of months in NYT or Wall Street Journal (and once again, I stumbled upon the word in the article America's True History of Religious Tolerance). Every time I see this word, I always look it up. But shortly after — typically a few days later — I gleefully forget the meaning.

What's the best way to remember what this word means?

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RegDwight -- your corrects are always encouraged. –  Anderson Silva Nov 26 '10 at 15:10

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The word is used in the Bible to mean face or bearing, demeanor. The account in Mark 10:17-31 demonstrates this use: The man's "countenance fell" (an idiom) and went away sorrowing.

I have not seen that usage in a long time! From Merrian-Webster:

coun·te·nance verb

\ˈkau̇n-tən-ən(t)s, ˈkau̇nt-nən(t)s\

coun·te·nanced ‌ ‌ coun·te·nanc·ing

Definition of COUNTENANCE

transitive verb

‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ : to extend approval or toleration to : sanction < refused to countenance

‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ any changes in the policy>

The connection is clear: What you approve, you are happy with, you look fondly upon. What you disapprove of, you frown upon.

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Countenance as a noun is also used quite eloquently in Edgar Allen Poe's poem, The Raven - "Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling, / By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore" –  Scott Mitchell Nov 27 '10 at 21:56
    
@ScottM Ah, I didn't know of that line before. –  Mark C Nov 27 '10 at 22:06
    
The Raven is one of my favorite poems, had it all memorized at one point in my life. A good case study of words you don't hear or see too often these days! :-) –  Scott Mitchell Nov 27 '10 at 22:09

I think it's easiest to remember by noting that as a noun, countenance just means face, appearance. The meaning of the verb is figurative based on this: to give face to, as in, to let people know that you approve something, and hence, to sanction.

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The best way to remember a word is to use it. Tomorrow, use it in a sentence 5 times. Do this for 5 days, and you'll remember it.

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