6

[OED:] The extension of sense from ‘mien, aspect’ to ‘face’ appears to be English: compare French use of mine.

[ Etymonline for 'countenance (v.)' ] late 15c., "to behave or act," from countenance (n.). Sense of "to favor, patronize" is from 1560s, from notion of "to look upon with sanction or smiles." ...

[ Etymonline for 'countenance (n.)' ] mid-13c., from Old French contenance "demeanor, bearing, conduct," from Latin continentia "restraint, abstemiousness, moderation," literally "way one contains oneself," from continentem, present participle of continere (see contain). Meaning evolving Middle English from "appearance" to "facial expression betraying a state of mind," to "face" itself (late 14c.).

Please help me dig deeper than the definition, which I already understand and so ask NOT about. I heed the Etymological Fallacy. But what are some right ways of interpreting the etymology to make it feel reasonable and intuitive?

1. Particularly, how did the meaning (that I bolded) evolve?

2. OED doesn't answer 1, but how does its reference to French (which I quoted) matter here?

  • Does the meaning shift explained in bold not make sense to you? – Brian Hitchcock Apr 25 '15 at 6:58
  • It might help to consider the phrase "give countenance to" as a sort of intermediate form. Also compare the etymology of "face" as a verb. – augurar Apr 25 '15 at 8:09
  • Why is the word "face" used to refer to social approval? Does "smiling on" someone have anything to do with support or approval? Does "turning one's face away from" someone? – John Lawler May 2 '15 at 15:19
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We can follow the development of countenance starting with the etymology of contain:

late 13c., from Old French contein-, stem of contenir, from Latin continere (transitive) "to hold together, enclose," from com- "together" (see com-) + tenere "to hold" (see tenet).

Moving step by step, through the etymology of countenance:

v.
late 15c., "to behave or act," from countenance (n.).
Sense of "to favor, patronize" is from 1560s, from notion of "to look upon with sanction or smiles."

n. mid-13c., from Old French contenance "demeanor, bearing, conduct,"
from Latin continentia "restraint, abstemiousness, moderation,"
literally "way one contains oneself,"
from continentem, present participle of continere (see contain).
Meaning evolving Middle English from "appearance" to "facial expression betraying a state of mind," to "face" itself (late 14c.).

  1. Noun formation from continere by way of continentem to continentia:

    • literally--the way one contains oneself
    • restraint, moderation
  2. Generalization from restraint to Old French contenance: conduct, bearing, demeanor

  3. Generalization from demeanor to Middle English countenance: appearance.

  4. Specialization from appearance to facial expression.

  5. Generalization from facial expression to face.

  6. Verb conversion from conduct to Modern English countenance: behave, act.

  7. Specialization from behave and facial expression to favor.

The final step of the verb to favor, was driven by the particular facial expressions of favor, which are an intuitive factor in the interpretation of behavior.

1

I believe we derived it from the phrase to keep someone in countenance, which means to help someone to remain calm and confident, or sort of to help them retain a good face.

The word countenance comes from the Old French word coutenance meaning ‘bearing, behavior,’ from contenir, from which we also derive the modern word contain. Contenir comes from the Latin continere whose meaning can be broken down into two parts. The first being prefix con- which comes from the Latin word cum meaning 'with' and then the second being the Latin word tenere which means 'to have (or to hold)'. The early sense of the Old French word coutenance was ‘bearing, demeanor,’ also ‘facial expression,’ hence ‘the face.’

P.S. the present (active) participle of continere is continens, continentem in the unnecessary inflection of continens into the accusative masculine singular (also I have no clue why they [the website refrenced above] would choose the accusative masculine singular, it would be easier to give it in its simplest form)

From an enthusiastic Latin student

0

The confusion over the etymology of countenance is a direct result of mistranslations in Genesis 4:4-5 (KJV)

4And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: 5But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.

Respect was never correctly translated. At that time in history 'respect' meant 'payment in kind' from the Latin word 'specie' meaning 'coin.'

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Specie

When Cain didn't receive respect (payment in kind of coins of equal value), his countenance fell.

As you can see from most of the previous answers there is no clear etymological connection between face and countenance other than the reference the KJV circa 16th century.

Obviously most of the other scholars ignored the real root of countenance (count) and tried to force some other meanings to match the mistranslations of KJV.

From Middle English counten, from Anglo-Norman conter, from Old French conter ‎(“add up; tell a story”), from Latin computare, present active infinitive of computō.

You then add the suffix '-ance' meaning 'the action or process of doing something' to the Middle English 'counten' and you have created the word countenance from Genesis 4 KJV.

Our timeline for the word now works well: Middle English (1066-1500) Counten is enumerating and countenance is the process of enumerating, then the KJV is translated from 1604-1611 and that is when the first instance of counten or count or cont had anything to do with a face.

You can study the etymologies of any variation of count, cont, con, etc. and you will never find a connection to the word 'face' or anything like it.

There are other words mistranslated in the verses. There is no evidence of "fat" referencing subcutaneous tissue before Middle English. 'Derma' and its variants had been the accepted root for 'flesh' or 'skin' for quite a long time at that point. 'Fat' and 'Pat' had a unwavering connection to the words 'father' and "paternal" from at least 3500 bc.

If 'fat' is 'father' and 'thereof' means 'origin,' then, "Fat thereof" seems to mean "paternal origin." That makes a lot more sense in relation to the phrase "firstlings of the flock," than referencing the origin of its subcutaneous tissue.

When I consider that the first use of the word 'sheep' in reference to a lamb or a ewe was KJV, it leads me to other ideas about why the Genesis account (KJV) called Abel a "keeper of sheep" instead of "shepherd."

"Tiller of the ground" means "tiller or Taylor of the ground loom," and Cain's offering of the "fruit of the ground" would be "fruit of the loom." In keeping with the weaving theme, Cain was said to 'slay' Abel but 'slay' almost certainly didn't mean 'to kill' until the 14th century. At that time, and still today, slay, sley and sleigh were the reeds of a loom or the thread count of woven fabrics. (Another reference to weaving and counting)

(http://www.dictionary.com/browse/sley)

Unfortunately, references to weaving in the primitive languages of that area are almost always mixed in with references to storytelling as weaving reality on a loom. It's hard to tell if Cain was a weaver or a storyteller, probably a bit of both, but he was most definitely not a farmer.

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