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sphinx

[sfingks] /sfɪŋks/
noun, plural sphinxes, sphinges
[sfin-jeez] /ˈsfɪn dʒiz/ (Show IPA)
1.
  1. a figure of an imaginary creature having the head of a man or an animal and the body of a lion.
  2. (usually initial capital letter) the colossal recumbent stone figure of this kind near the pyramids of Giza.
2.
(initial capital letter) Classical Mythology. a monster, usually represented as having the head and breast of a woman, the body of a lion, and the wings of an eagle. Seated on a rock outside of Thebes, she proposed a riddle to travelers, killing them when they answered incorrectly, as all did before Oedipus. When he answered her riddle correctly the Sphinx killed herself.
3.
any similar monster.
4.
a mysterious, inscrutable person or thing, especially one given to enigmatic questions or answers.
Origin
late Middle English
1375-1425
1375-1425; late Middle English < Latin < Greek sphínx, equivalent to sphing-, base of sphíngein to hold tight (cf. sphincter) + -s nominative singular ending
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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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Examples for sphinx
  • The satyr play that followed the trilogy was called the sphinx.
British Dictionary definitions for sphinx

sphinx

/sfɪŋks/
noun (pl) sphinxes, sphinges (ˈsfɪndʒiːz)
1.
any of a number of huge stone statues built by the ancient Egyptians, having the body of a lion and the head of a man
2.
an inscrutable person

Sphinx

/sfɪŋks/
noun the Sphinx
1.
(Greek myth) a monster with a woman's head and a lion's body. She lay outside Thebes, asking travellers a riddle and killing them when they failed to answer it. Oedipus answered the riddle and the Sphinx then killed herself
2.
the huge statue of a sphinx near the pyramids at El Gîza in Egypt, of which the head is a carved portrait of the fourth-dynasty Pharaoh, Chephrēn
Word Origin
C16: via Latin from Greek, apparently from sphingein to hold fast
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin and History for sphinx
n.

early 15c., "monster of Greek mythology," from Latin Sphinx, from Greek Sphinx, literally" the strangler," a back-formation from sphingein "to squeeze, bind" (see sphincter).

Monster, having a lion's (winged) body and a woman's head, that waylaid travelers around Thebes and devoured those who could not answer its questions; Oedipus solved the riddle and the Sphinx killed herself. The proper plural would be sphinges. Transferred sense of "person or thing of mysterious nature" is from c.1600. In the Egyptian sense (usually male and wingless) it is attested from 1570s; specific reference to the colossal stone one near the pyramids as Giza is attested from 1610s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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sphinx in Culture
Sphinx [(sfingks)]

In the story of Oedipus, a winged monster with the head of a woman and the body of a lion. It waylaid travelers on the roads near the city of Thebes and would kill any of them who could not answer this riddle: “What creatures walk on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?” Oedipus finally gave the correct answer: human beings, who go on all fours as infants, walk upright in maturity, and in old age rely on the “third leg” of a cane.

Note: The sphinx of Greek mythology resembles the sphinx of Egyptian mythology but is distinct from it (the Egyptian sphinx had a man's head). (See under “Fine Arts.”)
Sphinx [(sfingks)]

A great sculpture carved from the rock near the Egyptian pyramids in about 2500 b.c. It depicts a creature from Egyptian mythology with the head of a man and the body of a lion. (See under “Mythology and Folklore.”)

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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