If one were to describe someone's chin as "pugnacious", what would that chin look like?

EDIT: In the context where I read it, it was used as a purely physical description I believe; it wasn't situation-specific. Therefore, I don't think it means simply thrust out.

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  • Could it be not a physical description, so much as a mannerism, which is not specific to a certain situation. – Urbycoz Jun 9 '11 at 14:00
  • When was this written? The Victorians believed in phrenology. Maybe they believed in mentology as well (from L. mentum, chin + Gk. logia). – Peter Shor Jun 9 '11 at 14:05
  • @Peter Shor This was written in 2010; I found it in Ron Chernow's biography of George Washington, Washington, A Life. – Uticensis Jun 9 '11 at 14:07
  • Of interest, you can also have a pugnacious nose apparently. – Kit Z. Fox Jun 9 '11 at 17:20
  • @Kit: And eyes! – Callithumpian Jun 10 '11 at 2:13

What an odd way to describe a chin.

Pugnacious: inclined to quarrel or fight readily; quarrelsome; belligerent; combative.

So this would be the type of chin that belongs a habitual fighter. I think it would be pushed out, assuming an aggressive stance. The jaw would be set firmly, which is also aggressive, and I imagine most strongly that it would be square.

Square-jawed seems to describe pugnacious kinds of people, but I don't have a ready link for this. I'll see if I can find some.

Here we go:

Except from book

From Paradise pursued: the novels of Rose Macaulay

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  • Found an example. – Kit Z. Fox Jun 9 '11 at 13:59
  • This is definitely the correct explanation. It is scientifically proven that square jaw is an indication of high levels of testosterone and is sexually appealing to females. There are many other physiological signs like this governing mutual election of mates in various species. As for Homo sapiens, if you are interested in this matter you can read "The naked ape" By Desmond Morris. As a woman you innately "sensed" this. – Alain Pannetier Φ Jun 9 '11 at 19:56
  • @Alain I've actually read The Naked Ape. So a square-jaw is correlated with pugnaciousness, then? And is also sexy? – Kit Z. Fox Jun 9 '11 at 19:57
  • Nice book, isn't it?. The BBC has also a 6 parts documentary written and presented by Desmond Morris himself. "A square-jaw is correlated with pugnaciousness": Both are indicators of high levels of testosterone because they are more primitive characters. If you need to chew a lot because you live in a hard place 100000 years ago, then you will need strong jaws attached with strong muscles. Incidentally then you also need to fight your way in life and you need high levels of testosterone (or low levels and good running legs if you are not a social animal). – Alain Pannetier Φ Jun 9 '11 at 20:04
  • ... continued. This is sexually appealing to females because this indicates that they can invest in the genotype of the male. He will possibly not be a good father (he will probably be a womanizer) but at least his offspring will be strong and will have higher survival chances. In our societies, women are attracted by strong jaws male but tend to marry men with less "bestial" characteristics. Without knowing it they vote for a stable family life and a father who will be a better parent rather than a bringer of strong genes. – Alain Pannetier Φ Jun 9 '11 at 20:09

The description you found was of American portraitist, Gilbert Stuart:

For the impulsive, unreliable Stuart, who left a trail of incomplete paintings and irate clients in his wake, George Washington emerged as the savior who would rescue him from insistent creditors. "When I can net a sum sufficient to take me to America, I shall be off my native soil," he confided eagerly to a friend. "There I expect to make a fortune by Washington alone. I calculate upon making a plurality of his portraits. . . and if I should be fortunate, I will repay my English and Irish creditors." In a self-portrait daubed years earlier, Stuart presented himself as a restless soul, with tousled reddish-brown hair, keen blue eyes, a strongly marked nose, and a pugnacious chin. This harried, disheveled man was scarcely the sort to appeal to the immaculately formal George Washington.

Here's the self-portrait referred to in the passage (hardly a pugnacious chin, I think):

Gilbert Stuart, self-portrait

Here's a later portrait of him by Charles Willson Peale (not sure how his nose line changed so much, but the chin's a bit more pugnacious)

portrait of Gilbert Stuart by Charles Willson Peale

Ah, here we go. Pugnacity!

Gilbert Stuart stamp

By the way, describing chins as pugnacious is much more common than I thought. And pugnacious jaw is even more common.

One piece I think is missing from the other answers is why pugnacious might mean jutting or square-jawed. I found this at Etymonline:

pugnacious 1640s, from L. pugnacis, gen. of pugnax "combative," from pugnare "to fight," from pugnus "fist" . . .

So, I posit that a pugnacious chin is square because it is shaped like a fist.

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  • Different guy in those pictures, surely! – z7sg Ѫ Jun 9 '11 at 17:10
  • @z7sg: I've added image links so others can check, but I agree there might be a mistake here. – Callithumpian Jun 9 '11 at 17:25
  • It's funny but the first one looks more like another picture of Charles Willson Peale. You know what it's like with these portraits though, impossible to tell what someone really looks like. – z7sg Ѫ Jun 9 '11 at 17:38

The word pugnacious comes from the Latin pugnare ("to fight"). So in normal usage means belligerent or ready to fight.

To apply that to someone's chin is quite subjective. I would imagine it to be pushed out forward in an agressive manner.

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Presumably you already know that 'pugnacious' by itself is usually used as a description of a person as aggressive, in-your-face, or looking for a fight, based on the roots that it is 'like a boxer'.

'Pugnacious', when modifying 'chin', is metaphorical. That is, it is a chin like a boxer's (whatever that is), an aggressive chin (one that sticks out), or just an overly masculine chin (Kirk Douglas? George Clooney?).

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