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What is the origin of the expression "his/her face is a map of the world"? Bonus points to a literary origin (as in, the first written usage of the phrase in the English language).

The phrase is found in two popular modern songs:

http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/3530822107858555496/

http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/3530822107858541508/

This poster on askville claims her grandmother already used it "50 years ago": http://askville.amazon.com/expression-face-map-world/AnswerViewer.do?requestId=743266

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There is this from 1841 in George Cruikshank's Omnibus, page 57: "His face spread before our curious and inquiring gaze, like a map of the world, and we traced in recollection an infinite variety of character." –  JLG Oct 3 '12 at 14:05
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I hesitate to say this should go on writers.se, but frankly it seems Off Topic/Too Localised here. –  FumbleFingers Oct 3 '12 at 14:28
    
@JLG That is exceptionally cool! –  Pieter Müller Oct 3 '12 at 15:27
    
The second link has "On his face is a map of the world", maybe they mean that literally? –  donothingsuccessfully Oct 3 '12 at 18:55

1 Answer 1

up vote 5 down vote accepted

It means their face is old, wrinkly or weathered, or that the marks on their face can be related to the contours and marks of a map. It can be negative (saying they're ugly) or complimentary (saying they're experienced). It's not a particularly common phrase, but the sentiment isn't unusual.

Published in Bentley's Miscellany in 1840 is this from Greenwich and Greenwich Men by J. Hamilton Reynolds:

To what reflections do not the passing of these stunted distorted crinkleyfaced battered shattered homely wrecks of valour and patriotism in cartridge not Bath wove lead One man leans with a face like a map of the world he has sailed round beneath a huge granite gateway and he is not all before you No one eye parted company at the Nile at the night hour when the Orient exploded in the eyes of the shore bordering Egyptians a leg had reviously been tossed to a shark that hungered in the troubled and b oody waves which rolled from the Baltic around the leviathans of the deep close to the walls of Copenhagen

To what reflections do not the passing of these stunted, distorted, crinkley-faced battered, shattered, homely wrecks of valour and patriotism in cartridge - not Bath-nove - lead! One man leans, with a face like a map of the world he has sailed round, beneath a huge granite gateway - and he is not all before you! No; - one eye parted company at the Nile, at the night hour when the Orient exploded in the eyes of the shore-bordering Egyptians,- a leg had previously been tossed to a shark that hungered in the troubled and bloody waves which rolled from the Baltic around the "leviathans of the deep," close to the walls of Copenhagen!


This Fool's Cap Map of the World is from around 1590:

The fool's cap world map, showing the map of the world where a jester's face should be, inside the jester's visor

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+1 Excellent answer (as usual) :) Please also add proof of date for the picture. It's quite remarkable. –  coleopterist Oct 3 '12 at 14:49
    
@coleopterist: Thanks, I'd added the wrong link. Fixed. –  Hugo Oct 3 '12 at 15:18
    
Fantastic! Thanks! –  Pieter Müller Oct 3 '12 at 15:29
    
KT Tunstal (from the question) doesn't seem to agree that it means distorted: "Her face is a map of the world / Is a map of the world / You can see she's a beautiful girl". –  donothingsuccessfully Oct 3 '12 at 18:49

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