millihelen

EnglishEdit

EtymologyEdit

From the SI prefix milli- (indicating a thousandth) + Helen, of Troy, the maiden so beautiful that her abduction by Paris sparked the Trojan War and was said, in Christopher Marlowe's 1604 Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, to have ‘launched a thousand ships’.

NounEdit

millihelen (plural millihelens)

  1. (informal) A unit of measure of pulchritude, corresponding to the amount of beauty required to launch one ship.
    • 1983: Robertson Davies, The Rebel Angels
      Now Maria seems to me to be a wonder in every respect that I have had the pleasure of examining, and her clothes are plainly not meant to conceal defects. So what do we say? I'd say 850 millihelens for Maria. anybody bid higher?
    • 1992: Isaac Asimov, Asimov Laughs Again
      During the days when I was a graduate student in the early forties, we were dealing with chemistry in which there were a great many units used in measuring various quantities--in particular the entire metric system. A friend of mine, Mario Castillo, and I therefore whiled away one lunch period by making up units and I finally came up with the "millihelen," which is enough beauty to launch one ship. (After all, Helen of Troy had a "face that launched a thousand ships.")
      Years later, I saw "millihelen" in Time, and it wasn't attributed to me, either.
    • 1993: R. E. Allen, commentator, The Symposium: The Dialogues of Plato volume 2
      The finest achievement of modern aesthetic theory has been the discovery of a unit of measure of beauty. This is the millihelen: that quantum of beauty required to launch one ship. But the millihelen is an inappropriate measure of beauty in the ascent passage of the Symposium, for application of a measure implies invariance in what is measured, [...] So there is no number of millihelens by which Socrates' soul is prettier than Helen of Troy's body.
    • 1994: Carl Pollard, Ivan A. Sag, Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar
      three milliHelens more beautiful
    • 2001: Ray Crowther, The Nearest FarAway Place
      Don was referring to the time at school when Carl had first dated Sarah. ‘She was the best looking girl in the school — at least nine hundred millihelens.
    • 2005: David Morgan-Mar
      (Mercutio, in reaction to the mention of the millihelen) 'You can't mix metric prefixes with Troy units like that.'

Usage notesEdit

According to Raymond Augustine Bauer and Kenneth J. Gergen (The Study of Policy Formation, 1968), ‘one could also speak of fractional millihelens, say, enough beauty to launch two cabin boys’.

Last modified on 20 June 2013, at 15:11