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I am looking for a word that refers to the state of appearing as only a head without a body, as in the case of an apparition or god. I think the word would be used in a sentence something like this: "The goddess Athena appeared [blank] to him and foretold his future."

I know I have run into the word in use before and had to look it up. But I have forgotten what the word is. I am pretty sure that I found the word on Dictionary.com. To my best recollection, it is a foreign-sounding word, most likely Latin[ish].

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    It's a horseless headman.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 2:38
  • A talking head? Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 2:56
  • No. It is not talking head or horseless headman.
    – BruiserTom
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 8:17
  • This isn't some mash-up between the idea of godhead and the word 'incarnate' is it?
    – Spagirl
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 9:42
  • BruiserTom, @HotLicks wasn't being serious: youtu.be/-343UI_MNK8
    – Spencer
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 11:17

4 Answers 4

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You are looking for disembodied

Cambridge

seeming to not have a body or not to be connected to a body

In the sense you want it,

The goddess Athena's disembodied head appeared to him and foretold his future.

or a little more subtly:

Disembodied, the goddess Athena appeared to him and foretold his future.

The prefix dis- has a Latin origin, em- is Middle English via Norman French en-, and body is good old Anglo-Saxon.

If you're looking for a pithy Latin phrase, you could try tantum in capite, which simply means "only a head".

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  • I can't for the life of me understand why Cambridge Dictionary has a dumbed-down version of the definition as its "US English" definition.
    – Spencer
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 1:53
  • Thanks. But disembodied is not the word I am thinking of. I am sure I will know the word when I see it. I believe the word I am searching for means appearing as a head with no body. I think your last example could refer to a spectral image of a complete body.
    – BruiserTom
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 7:50
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Probably not what you're looking for, but here's a bust of Athena.

Bust of Athena

A Latin word that comes to mind is effigy.

Also, numen.

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  • I don't know Latin, but in English effigy and numen don't imply a head without a body.
    – nnnnnn
    Commented Oct 14, 2019 at 6:01
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Perhaps the Raw Head component of "raw head and bloody bones" is what you're looking for. The OED defines it as follows, with citations from 1564:

  1. Frequently in form Raw-head. A bugbear or bogeyman, typically imagined as having a head in the form of a skull, or one whose flesh has been stripped of its skin, invoked to frighten children. Also occasionally: a skull. Frequently used in conjunction with bloody-bones (see Bloody Bones n.). Cf. raw-flesh n., raw neck n.

It's also discussed in the Wiki article on Bloody Bones .

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  • The OP didn't mention the head being stripped of flesh or bloody...
    – Spagirl
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 5:08
  • I agree -- I posted it as a remote possibility, more head-specific than manifestation or apparition. The two specific "heads alone" apparitions I can think of are the Three Heads in a Well, and Friar Bacon's Brazen Head. Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 6:16
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incorporeal is how i would try to describe any supposed mind that hasn't yet been disproven to exist in some untestable, unknowable and nonsensical place referred to as 'outside space and time.' i know there's an absence of a 'head' by definition, but...

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    This isn't one of those cases where the premise of a question is wrong and an answer could explain why and then go in a different direction. The OP's comment under that other answer again makes it very clear they only want a term for a head with no body. They don't want to widen the scope. If they're not satisfied with disembodied they're certainly not going to accept incorporeal, even though incorporeal is a pretty cool word in a general sense.
    – nnnnnn
    Commented Oct 14, 2019 at 9:32

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