I'm reading a text and there is a phrase which I don't know the meaning of:

A gentleman entered, with a pleasant, cultured face, high-nosed and pale, with something perhaps of petulance about the mouth, and with the steady, well-opened eye of a man whose pleasant lot it had ever been to command and to be obeyed.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

What does "cultured face" mean?

  • 3
    It's a fair question. A quick look through the dictionaries yields 'educated, refined, urbane ...' for the sense other than 'produced by cultivation rather than naturally growing'. This is a transferred usage, and means 'looking like the person is cultured'. The opposite of rough-looking. Arguably non-PC. Jun 29 '20 at 18:40
  • Add to that "sculptured" and you have a perfect face.
    – LPH
    Jun 29 '20 at 19:18
  • I would be tempted to joke that the person looks like their face is smeared with cultured buttermilk. But I won't.
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 29 '20 at 19:57

Physiognomy is a practice of assessing a person's character or personality from their outer appearance—especially the face. Although it fell out of favor as science as the 20th century approached, many 19th century authors, including Dickens, Hardy and the Bronte sisters, used physiognomy to describe their characters. Arthur Conan Doyle (22 May 1859– 7 July 1930) wrote at the tail end of physiognomy’s popularity, but it meshed well with Sherlock’s ability to draw conclusions from outward appearances. For Sherlock culture (a love of the arts) could be read in a person’s facial features. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physiognomy

  • 1
    Perhaps Sherlock could read a face that was still feeling self-gratification from last night's performance of..." and the previous night's... But then Sherlock was tutored by ACD's involvement with the art of cold reading. Jun 29 '20 at 21:11

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