Taxonomy of Faces
January 28, 2009 12:17 AM   Subscribe

Is there a vocabulary for facial features?

I've been riding the bus to work for about three months now, and I'm blown away by how similar some people look. I get the genetics of it all, but I'm curious: is there a relatively standard set of terms to describe faces and/or facial features? Is there a term for people-who-look-like-John-Francis-Daley (who I swear was riding my bus the other day)? And if so, what is a good reference for me to learn the lingo?
posted by McBearclaw to Science & Nature (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
In my past job I travelled extremely widely is Asia, South America and Europe and I was sometimes intensely struck by someone passing me in a Brazilian town who was the spitting image of a mate of mine from Germany, or someone in Holland who looked like my American friend. I recommend you google dopplegangers, perhaps, to get started on this.

Basically we're more or less symmetrical mammalian gene-expressing machines so I don't think there is any mystery that now and again a pattern pops up that is very similar.
In earlier periods those same patterned features would all have been in the same village, township, region, country. But there have been mass movements of people so they are spread around now.
posted by Wilder at 12:31 AM on January 28, 2009

In a related vein there is some interesting reading regarding eigenfaces.
posted by mce at 1:12 AM on January 28, 2009

Facial composite art used in identifying criminals might be a good resource- I think there are like, books with pages and pages of noses, lips, face shapes, etc., that you pick and choose from to build the image of the accused. Ultimate FlashFace has lots of images like this, although they're not named. I imagine the names aren't included just so they don't overwhelm the user: I bet a forensics-type textbook would have lists of feature types.

I remember reading a book by Jan Wong in which she described seeing "wanted" posters in China a few decades ago. They used terminology like "Male, long face, triple-fold eyelids." I had never heard such specific descriptors for Asian eye-shapes; they're not all the same, but in North American beauty magazines they're usually just described as "almond-shaped". But there are lots of more-subtle differences: the thickness and fat in the eyelid skin creates different types of lid-heaviness, there are variances in the depth and direction of the crease, prominence of epicanthal fold.

Beauty magazines often do breakdowns of different face-shapes to give makeup, hair and glasses tips, too. The words they use are fairly vague, but usually consistent (faces are usually described as round, square, rectangular, triangular, oval, or heart-shaped, for instance).

For common parlance, on a man's face, you'd probably refer to notable features like a lantern jaw, a weak chin, dimples, high cheekbones (the bones in his cheeks stick out noticeably and flare up and out towards his temples), being "chisled" (having hollows under the cheekbones and a sharp jawline), close-set eyes, bulging eyes, wide-set eyes (meaning that his eyes are far apart), thin lips (he also has a Roman, meaning "big and somewhat curved/beaky) nose, pouty or full lips (he also has a wide mouth), etc.

As for John Frances Daley, I'd describe him as having big, slightly cartoony features, with boyish, dimpled cheeks, a big smile, big teeth, bedroom eyes (see how his eyelids make a thick line over his eyes that makes them look half-closed), thick eyebrows that are long, full, and diagonally arched, and tousled hair.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:12 AM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and a few specific words for what Daley looks like: I'd say "actorly". Tons of actors have that kind of face: big features set in a face with strong bone-structure.
Maybe also "boyishly handsome", "hint of chipmunk teeth", "youthful", "dimpled", "princely". (Doesn't he remind you a bit of the three English princes?)
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:21 AM on January 28, 2009

On a somewhat related note, check out the Facial Action Coding System.
posted by jeeves at 1:34 AM on January 28, 2009

FWIW, I in a quickie mart in Alpine Junction, Idaho, and was called "john" by the checkout lady. Then she bobbled a bit and followed up with "You have a twin in Salt Lake City." Apparently we have all of same mannerisms, too. She claimed that everyone has two "twins", or doppelgangers.
posted by notsnot at 5:19 AM on January 28, 2009

I used to be told that I looked just like an acquaintance's little sister...but the acquaintance (and her little sister) were both very dark skinned black women, and I am a pale pasty white woman.

It's very interesting, though!
posted by firei at 6:16 AM on January 28, 2009

I think about this a lot too. What proves that it's difficult to describe striking facial features is that a while back some prankish magazine (Radar?) hired a police sketch artist to draw faces of celebrities like George Clooney--working only from purple prose descriptions in magazine profiles. They all came out totally wrong...
posted by Kirklander at 8:13 AM on January 28, 2009

Kinda off-topic, did anyone else think the kid in the ice shack that found the body in "Fire in the Ice" looked like he could be JFD's relative? That kid REALLY looked like him. Sweets is adopted, eh? Someone do a DNA check...
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:16 PM on January 28, 2009

« Older What are my options for a support case/ticket...   |   Three days/four nights alone? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.