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be the face of something: to represent the nature or character of an organization, industry, system etc, and the way it appears to people

This is the sense I came to using the Longman definition. However, “represent” is not part of the definition. So I want to make sure I got it right.

What is the definition of this phrase? I have tried to look it up in numerous dictionaries, but I can't find it as a phrase.

For example in the title of this article: Should You Be the Face of Your Business?

Or as in: He was the face of popular music.

  • Longman has an entry for this idiom. – J.R. May 3 at 21:49
  • @J.R. That definition does not fit these contexts. – ib11 May 3 at 22:29
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    Why doesn't that definition "fit these contexts"? The first line in that definition reads "the nature or character of an organization, industry, system etc, and the way it appears to people". You are asking about the expression "the Face of Your Business". How is 'business' different from 'organization, ... etc'? It seems to me that that very closely matches your context. Please clarify your Q. & explain why the cited definition is not applicable, else the Q. could be closed as 'unclear what you are asking". – TrevorD May 3 at 23:57
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    @TrevorD I agree with your comment that the Longman definition does fit the context. However, J.R. merely provided a bare link (no explanation) so I think it would be an overreaction to close as unclear merely because the OP didn't see the relevance. The expression "be the face of sth" turns out to be a bit harder to find than I'd have thought, and the Longman entry doesn't really capture the sense of being the face. Anyway, I've posted an answer because I think the existing online resources are inadequate for this particular expression, and EL&U is the perfect solution to that. :-) – Chappo May 4 at 3:07
  • From Wordnik: be (verb) To signify; to represent or symbolize – J.R. May 6 at 15:27
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To be the face of something is to be the feature, embodiment or recognised representation of the thing. It can apply to a person (e.g. J.R.'s comment of Steve Jobs as the face of Apple), or even to a concept, as shown in the example given in the following definition:

the face of sth

what you can see of something or what shows:
Poor quality is the unacceptable face of increased productivity.

[Source: Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus]

Longman provides a similar definition:

the face of something

a) the nature or character of an organization, industry, system etc, and the way it appears to people

  • technology that has changed the face of society

  • Is this the new face of the Tory party?

    the ugly/unacceptable/acceptable face of something (= the qualities of an organization, industry etc which people find unacceptable or acceptable)

  • the unacceptable face of capitalism

b) the general appearance of a particular place

  • the changing face of the landscape

[Source: Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online]

Note that this usage is not quite an idiom, since "face" itself has the following as one of its defined meanings:

face

  1. a (1) : outward appearance
    put a good face on it

    a (2) : the aspect of something that is perceptible or obvious upon superficial examination
    the theory is absurd on its face — Kim Neely

[Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary]

The origins of the word suggest that its application in the above usages may not be figurative but, rather, that the specific application to the human countenance is only one facet (pun intended) of the broader meaning of "face". From etymonline:

Words for "face" in Indo-European commonly are based on the notion of "appearance, look," and are mostly derivatives from verbs for "to see, look" (as with the Old English words, Greek prosopon, literally "toward-look," Lithuanian veidas, from root *weid- "to see," etc.). But in some cases, as here, the word for "face" means "form, shape." In French, the use of face for "front of the head" was given up 17c. and replaced by visage (older vis), from Latin visus "sight."

From late 14c. as "outward appearance (as contrasted to some other reality);" also from late 14c. as "forward part or front of anything;" also "surface (of the earth or sea), extent (of a city)."

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In the context of the article you linked to, that phrase typically means to be a person that a company's brand and public image revolves around. Steve Jobs was this for Apple when he was still alive. A lot of people saw Jobs as what Apple as a company stood for.

  • Thank you. Where did you find this definition? – ib11 May 3 at 22:30
  • Exactly. Steve Jobs represented the nature or character of Apple. – J.R. May 3 at 22:36
  • @J.R. You added "represented" to the Longman definition. Of course I could do that myself and understand what it is, but I asked for a definition that is specific to the contexts I quoted. – ib11 May 4 at 20:08
  • @ib11 - Sometimes you have to apply some thought to a dictionary definition to make a connection. I happen to think the definition in Longman does fit your context, although one may need to apply a little more than straight-up text replacement to see it. – J.R. May 4 at 22:39
  • @J.R. Agreed on that. And I did so, but I wanted to make sure I did not miss anything, that's why I posted. Chappo captured my sentiments in his comment on the OP as well as in his answer. – ib11 May 5 at 1:00

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