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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’.


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.'