HORSEY: a word to describe a person with a long face


There have been a number of pictures of Secretary of State John Kerry in the news this past week.  He was thrown from his bicycle and broke his leg in the process.

I was studying a picture of him, thinking how distinguished he looks, and how his face gives off a sense of intelligence and diplomacy.   At the same time, however, I realize that some in the news media would say that his appearance is horsey.

That is to say, his long face gives the appearance of a horse characteristic.  It’s true. There is an equine look to someone with a long face.   It’s not a negative or positive statement.  It is neutral.   It simply means that John Kerry has a long face…just like Abraham Lincoln.

You can measure it…and you will find that his face is considerably longer than that of the “average” person…whoever that may be.  There are people with short faces, fat faces, skinny faces, round faces, and every other characteristic one could imagine.   It says nothing about their intelligence, class, capabilities, or lack thereof.

I suppose that it someone wanted to make fun of John Kerry or someone else with an elongated face, it would be possible to turn the term horsey into a pejorative comment.  Just like people made fun of Jimmy Carter’s large teeth, and Bill Clinton’s hair (or his girth.)    People like  George W. Bush are said to have beady eyes. Ronald Reagan had a sculpted face.   FDR had an elevated chin, like most privileged people.   They are all terms used in caricatures (exaggerated cartoons) of famous people.

Horsey (Bryan Garner says it should be spelled horsy) is a word that, under normal circumstances, doesn’t carry any judgments with it.    But a journalist with a comical flair can make a lot out of it, should that be an intent.  But it’s not something that a public figure  should lose sleep over.   For the most part, it is just descriptive.

However, if someone is described as resembling a “pig with lipstick,” a “weasel-like appearance, ” or a “rat face” there is no question that the describer is making a comment.   Each carries some baggage with it.


Photo Credit:  Washington Post

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