Word of the Day – Rictus

Word of the Day : May 19, 2021


noun RIK-tus


1 : the gape of a bird’s mouth

2 a : the mouth orifice

b : a gaping grin or grimace

Did you know?

Rictus began its English career in the late 17th century as a technical term for the mouth of an animal, the new science of zoology clearly calling for some Latin to set its lingo apart from the language of farmers. In Latin, rictus means “an open mouth”; it comes from the verb ringi, meaning “to open the mouth.” Zoologists couldn’t keep the word to themselves, though. English speakers liked its sound too much, and they thought it would be good for referring to a gaping grin or grimace. James Joyce used the word in both Ulysses (1922) and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), writing in the latter, “Creatures were in the field…. Goatish creatures with human faces…. A rictus of cruel malignity lit up greyly their old bony faces.”


“You could make a strong case that the current face of the Mariners’ franchise, generically speaking, is frozen in a rictus of frustration.… Perhaps one day soon a savior will emerge and lead the Mariners to unachieved heights.” — Larry Stone, The Seattle Times, 31 Mar. 2021

“To [Jim Carrey] fans, it’s fun to watch him return to sketch comedy—the medium that offered his big break back in the early ’90s—turn that rubber face into a rictus, and wiggle his glued-on eyebrows.” — Alison Herman, The Ringer, 9 Oct. 2020