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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 person's face in profile.
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. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for silhouetting
Historical Examples
  • There are some dusty streets, and silhouetting against the dim sky a dilapidated faade of some broken pillars.

  • Another flare flashed in the sky behind him silhouetting a row of grotesque trees.

    The Quantum Jump Robert Wicks
  • Was it she or was it only memory suddenly awakening and silhouetting her upon that background of massed humanity?

    The Plum Tree David Graham Phillips
  • The sun fell over a circle of rocky peaks, silhouetting their severe lines against the azure sky.

    Atlantida Pierre Benoit
  • Twice or thrice I saw the “V” of her bow shoot skyward, silhouetting like a black wedge against a fan of sun-shot spray.

    Down the Columbia Lewis R. Freeman
  • The wheel fires of the Seminoles flared among the live oaks, silhouetting dusky figures and palmetto wigwams.

    Diane of the Green Van

    Leona Dalrymple
  • Above him on the bank, silhouetting against the moons, the killer robot stopped and its blaster swivelled slowly down.

    Survival Tactics Al Sevcik
  • There she came, coughing and spluttering up the grade, the headlight turning night into day and silhouetting us in sharp relief.

    The Road

    Jack London
British Dictionary definitions for silhouetting


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 silhouetting



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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