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Last Wednesday, I went out to tea with several friends, and one of the men said that he had a new girlfriend. I asked him what she looked like, and all he said was,"She has a face that launched a thousand ships."

What does this phrase mean? And what is its origin?

17

It is a reference to Helen of Troy. She was said to be so beautiful that, when she was abducted, a fleet of a thousand ships set sail to win her back from Paris, sparking the Trojan Wars.

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    Indeed. The missing part is that Helen of Troy was renowned for her beauty, so the friend is saying that his girlfriend is preposterously attractive. – Matthew Read May 9 '11 at 23:28
  • @Matthew Correct, I'll edit it a bit – voithos May 9 '11 at 23:29
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    The original quote: "Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships, And burnt the topless towers of Ilium-- Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.--" – Manjima Jun 29 '11 at 15:40
17

If his girlfriend is even 1/1000th the beauty of Helen of Troy, you can use the unit of facial beauty called the millihelen:

  –noun

1. (informal) A unit of measure of pulchritude, corresponding to the amount of beauty required to launch one ship.

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    Hahahaha!! Thank-you so much.!! I'm so going to use that tip. – Thursagen May 9 '11 at 23:42
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    Related answer. – Callithumpian May 9 '11 at 23:46
  • I once asked my brother what a milihelen was, and he worked it out. Smart boy. – TRiG Sep 5 '11 at 20:39

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