I keep seeing this word every couple of months in NYT or Wall Street Journal (and once again, I stumbled upon the word in the article America's True History of Religious Tolerance). Every time I see this word, I always look it up. But shortly after — typically a few days later — I gleefully forget the meaning.

What's the best way to remember what this word means?

  • RegDwight -- your corrects are always encouraged. Nov 26, 2010 at 15:10

4 Answers 4


The word is used in the Bible to mean face or bearing, demeanor. The account in Mark 10:17-31 demonstrates this use: The man's "countenance fell" (an idiom) and went away sorrowing.

I have not seen that usage in a long time! From Merrian-Webster:

coun·te·nance verb

\ˈkau̇n-tən-ən(t)s, ˈkau̇nt-nən(t)s\

coun·te·nanced ‌ ‌ coun·te·nanc·ing

Definition of COUNTENANCE

transitive verb

‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ : to extend approval or toleration to : sanction < refused to countenance

‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ any changes in the policy>

The connection is clear: What you approve, you are happy with, you look fondly upon. What you disapprove of, you frown upon.

  • 3
    Countenance as a noun is also used quite eloquently in Edgar Allen Poe's poem, The Raven - "Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling, / By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore" Nov 27, 2010 at 21:56
  • @ScottM Ah, I didn't know of that line before.
    – Mark C
    Nov 27, 2010 at 22:06
  • The Raven is one of my favorite poems, had it all memorized at one point in my life. A good case study of words you don't hear or see too often these days! :-) Nov 27, 2010 at 22:09

I think it's easiest to remember by noting that as a noun, countenance just means face, appearance. The meaning of the verb is figurative based on this: to give face to, as in, to let people know that you approve something, and hence, to sanction.


The best way to remember a word is to use it. Tomorrow, use it in a sentence 5 times. Do this for 5 days, and you'll remember it.


Why not use the "Man of La Mancha" sing along number "the knight of the woeful countenance?" Sing that in your head, it's sure to help you remember what it means!

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