[ sfingks ]
See synonyms for sphinx on Thesaurus.com
noun,plural sphinx·es, sphin·ges [sfin-jeez]. /ˈsfɪn dʒiz/.
  1. (in ancient Egypt)

    • a figure of an imaginary creature having the head of a man or an animal and the body of a lion.

    • (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.

  1. any similar monster.

  2. a mysterious, inscrutable person or thing, especially one given to enigmatic questions or answers.

Origin of sphinx

1375–1425; late Middle English <Latin <Greek sphínx, equivalent to sphing-, base of sphíngein to hold tight (cf. sphincter) + -s nominative singular ending

Words Nearby sphinx

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use sphinx in a sentence

  • But his countenance still bore that sphinx-like expression which so often caused his friends to entertain vague suspicions.

    The Doctor of Pimlico | William Le Queux
  • By jove, just that moment—then I caught an expression—I say, do you know you would make a remarkable symbolic study of the sphinx?

    The Woman Gives | Owen Johnson
  • The rain falls, the mud deepens; the beautiful sphinx lies still, her eyes lost in the dull horizon.

    The Nabob | Alphonse Daudet
  • The sphinx, which men have imagined concealing herself in the cloud, seemed to mock him with a dilemma.

    Toilers of the Sea | Victor Hugo
  • A terrible sphinx propounding a terrible riddle; the riddle of the existence of Evil.

    Toilers of the Sea | Victor Hugo

British Dictionary definitions for sphinx (1 of 2)


/ (sfɪŋks) /

nounplural sphinxes or 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

British Dictionary definitions for Sphinx (2 of 2)


/ (sfɪŋks) /

nounthe 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

Origin of Sphinx

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 Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for Sphinx (1 of 2)


[ (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.

Notes for Sphinx

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.”)

[ (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 New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.