furrow » furl

Chiefly in:   furl one's brow , furled brow

Classification: English – vocalized /l/

Spotted in the wild:

  • Krohn’s furled brow and witty demeanor sharply criticizes his son, Douglas. (Univ. of Houston Daily Cougar, Apr. 20, 1999)
  • As the de rigueur firebrand villain Chauvelin, William Michals furls his brow and supplies a dosage of testosterone that gives the evening genuine pizzazz. (Cleveland Scene, Mar. 8, 2001)
  • Frances furls her brow, because she doesn’t really want to marry one of her past boyfriends, move to California and work in the Industry. (Harvard Crimson, Dec. 6, 2001)
  • As she furled her brow and continued her noontime walk, Jaworski called her friend on a cellular phone to vent. (New Britain Herald, CT, Mar. 21, 2003)
  • He gave an affirmative nod and furled his brow. (Notre Dame Magazine, Autumn 2003)
  • When she furls her brow and sprints her 100 meters at a pace appropriate for someone taking new steps, her long hair bounces behind her in a ponytail held by two scrunchies. (Pak Tribune, June 7, 2004)
  • Butch’s game may have been as pretty as a personalized photo of Lyle Lovett, especially because he played with that furled brow and tried to look mean as he scored while losing his balance or was parked on his butt after taking a charge. (Capital Times, Madison, WI, Dec. 4, 2004)

The verb _furrow_ ‘to crease’ is seldom used beyond the set phrase _furrow one’s brow_, and the original allusion to trenches in plowed fields has largely faded from the collective memory. _Furl_ ‘to roll up’ is similarly uncommon (its opposite, _unfurl_, appears with much greater frequency, though almost always in reference to flags or sails). Apparently, the rolling/curling/folding connotation of _furl_ supplies enough semantic justification for the term to be applied to wrinkled brows.

The _Oxford English Dictionary_ lists a sense of _furl_ meaning ‘to furrow,’ but it’s marked obsolete, with citations coming from the 17th-18th centuries:

1681 J. CHETHAM Angler’s Vade-m. x. §1 (1689) 98 Cloudy and windy day that furls the Water.
1742 SHENSTONE Schoolmistr. 261 He..furls his wrinkly front, and cries, ‘What stuff is here!’
a1763Odes, etc. (1765) 206 Nor bite your lip, nor furl your brow.

| link | entered by Ben Zimmer, 2005/07/20 |

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