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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.
Origin of silhouette
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. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for silhouette
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • There was the top-card's silhouette, quite recognisable as soon as the shadow was disestablished.

    When Ghost Meets Ghost William Frend De Morgan
  • When he rose from his chair his body came in silhouette against their light.

    The Underdog F. Hopkinson Smith
  • He walked as far as the corner, and saw in silhouette upon the bridge a solitary policeman thudding his chest for warmth.

    Sinister Street, vol. 2 Compton Mackenzie
  • The silhouette on the mantelpiece is of aunt Mercy, his mother's unmarried sister.

    Whittier-land Samuel T. Pickard
  • As in a silhouette, externally the contours are all there, but within is one vast blank.

    The Soul of the Far East Percival Lowell
British Dictionary definitions for silhouette


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 silhouette

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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