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See also: complexión and complex ion


Alternative forms[edit]


From Middle English complexion (temperament), from Old French complexion (French complexion), from Latin complexiō (a combination, connection, period), from complecti, past participle complexus (to entwine, encompass).



complexion (plural complexions)

  1. (obsolete, medicine) The combination of humours making up one's physiological "temperament", being either hot or cold, and moist or dry.
  2. The quality, colour, or appearance of the skin on the face.
    a rugged complexion;  a sunburnt complexion
    • c. 1596–1598 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Merchant of Venice”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act II, scene i]:
      Prince of Morocco: Mislike me not for my complexion, / The shadow’d livery of the burnish’d sun, / To whom I am a neighbour, and near bred. []
    • 1837, Letitia Elizabeth Landon, Ethel Churchill, volume 3, page 28:
      "I shall do nothing for the next week but study my costume and complexion," said she. "Ethel and myself will consider our conquests as proper compliments to your kindness."
    • 1899 Feb, Joseph Conrad, “The Heart of Darkness”, in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, page 193:
      The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.
    • 1910, Emerson Hough, chapter I, in The Purchase Price: Or The Cause of Compromise, Indianapolis, Ind.: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, OCLC 639762314:
      This new-comer was a man who in any company would have seemed striking. In complexion fair, and with blue or gray eyes, he was tall as any Viking, as broad in the shoulder.
  3. (figuratively) The outward appearance of something.
    • 1910, Bernard Capes, Why Did He Do It? (page 207)
      It was a little unfortunate that the fib unfibbed gave their consultations something the complexion of that close understanding which exists between penitent and confessor.
  4. Outlook, attitude, or point of view.
    • 1844, E. A. Poe, Marginalia
      But the purely marginal jottings, done with no eye to the Memorandum Book, have a distinct complexion, and not only a distinct purpose, but none at all; this it is which imparts to them a value.
  5. (loanword, especially in scientific works translated from German) An arrangement.
    • 1909, Ludwig Boltzmann, translated by Kim Sharp and Franz Matschinsky
      Second there is the level at which the energy or velocity components of each molecule are specified. He calls this a Komplexion, which we translate literally as complexion.


Related terms[edit]



complexion (third-person singular simple present complexions, present participle complexioning, simple past and past participle complexioned)

  1. (transitive) To give a colour to.
    • 2003, Leland Krauth, Mark Twain & Company: Six Literary Relations (page 118)
      From the pale refinement of her genteel heroine to the sallow complexioning of poor white trash, Stowe colors her narrative with the hues of the body.

Further reading[edit]




complexion f (plural complexions)

  1. complexion

Further reading[edit]

Old French[edit]


First known attestation circa 1120[1], borrowed from Latin complexiō.


complexion f (oblique plural complexions, nominative singular complexion, nominative plural complexions)

  1. (medicine) complexion (combination of humours making up one's physiological "temperament")


  1. ^ Etymology and history of “complexion”, in Trésor de la langue française informatisé [Digitized Treasury of the French Language], 2012.