sphinx

[ sfingks ]
/ sfɪŋks /

noun, plural sphinx·es, sphin·ges [sfin-jeez] /ˈsfɪn dʒiz/.

(in ancient Egypt)
  1. a figure of an imaginary creature having the head of a man or an animal and the body of a lion.
  2. (usually initial capital letter) the colossal recumbent stone figure of this kind near the pyramids of Giza.
(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.
any similar monster.
a mysterious, inscrutable person or thing, especially one given to enigmatic questions or answers.

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decorum

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
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

Example sentences from the Web for sphinx

British Dictionary definitions for sphinx (1 of 2)

sphinx
/ (sfɪŋks) /

noun plural sphinxes or sphinges (ˈsfɪndʒiːz)

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
an inscrutable person

British Dictionary definitions for sphinx (2 of 2)

Sphinx
/ (sfɪŋks) /

noun the Sphinx

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
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

Word Origin for 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)

Sphinx
[ (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.”)

Cultural definitions for sphinx (2 of 2)

Sphinx
[ (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.