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[sil-oo-et] /ˌsɪl uˈɛt/
a two-dimensional representation of the outline of an object, as a cutout or configurational drawing, uniformly filled in with black, especially a black-paper, miniature cutout of the outlines of a famous person's face.
the outline or general shape of something:
the slim silhouette of a skyscraper.
a dark image outlined against a lighter background.
verb (used with object), silhouetted, silhouetting.
to show in or as if in a silhouette.
Printing. to remove the background details from (a halftone cut) so as to produce an outline effect.
1790-1800; < French à la silhouette, after Etienne de Silhouette (1709-67), French finance minister
Related forms
unsilhouetted, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for silhouettes
  • They dive down deep and look for prey that appear as dark silhouettes against the brighter underside of the ice.
  • silhouettes against a colorful sky or background can make wonderful pictures.
  • What images do exist are based on unflattering silhouettes on coins.
  • The images were then copied as silhouettes onto a disc, later viewed on a zoopraxiscope.
  • The fading light reduced the pine trees to ink-brush silhouettes.
  • No major designer showed any skirts or outlandish silhouettes at the four-day event.
  • Strange, misty scenes composed of shadows and unrealistic silhouettes suggest the transition to abstraction.
  • Designers show standard materials in elongated silhouettes, more interesting than suits.
  • silhouettes of souls who never worked a day in their lives.
  • The site is surrounded by a highly ornamental fence containing silhouettes of selected presidents and authors.
British Dictionary definitions for silhouettes


the outline of a solid figure as cast by its shadow
an outline drawing filled in with black, often a profile portrait cut out of black paper and mounted on a light ground
(transitive) to cause to appear in silhouette
Word Origin
C18: named after Étienne de Silhouette (1709–67), French politician, perhaps referring to silhouettes as partial portraits, with a satirical allusion to Silhouette's brief career as controller general (1759)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for silhouettes



1798, from French silhouette, in reference to Étienne de Silhouette (1709-1767), French minister of finance in 1759. Usually said to be so called because it was an inexpensive way of making a likeness of someone, a derisive reference to Silhouette's petty economies to finance the Seven Years' War, which were unpopular among the nobility. But other theories are that it refers to his brief tenure in office, or the story that he decorated his chateau with such portraits.

Silhouette portraits were so called simply because they came into fashion in the year (1759) in which M. de Silhouette was minister. [A. Brachet, "An Etymological Dictionary of the French Language," transl. G.W. Kitchin, 1882]
Used of any sort of dark outline or shadow in profile from 1843. The verb is recorded from 1876, from the noun. The family name is a Frenchified form of a Basque surname; Arnaud de Silhouette, the finance minister's father, was from Biarritz in the French Basque country; the southern Basque form of the name would be Zuloeta or Zulueta, which contains the suffix -eta "abundance of" and zulo "hole" (possibly here meaning "cave").

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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