from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun informal A unit of measure of pulchritude, corresponding to the amount of beauty required to launch one ship.


from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

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’.


  • The one I remembered was millihelen, the amount of beauty required to launch just one ship.


  • Besides the examples I have given above, there are two units of measurement named for women: the curie (named for Marie, not Pierre) and the millihelen, the unit of beauty needed to launch one ship.

    VERBATIM: The Language Quarterly Vol XI No 3

  • Martin Harris Slobodkin Cambridge, Massachusetts If the milli-helen of W.K. Viertel [III, 4] is accepted by the American National Metric Council, they will probably insist that it be written millihelen, i.e., without the hyphen.

    VERBATIM: The Language Quarterly Vol IV No 2

  • Since it is planned to eventually substitute 3.6 megajoule (symbol MJ) for a kilowatt-hour, the redefinition of millihelen to helen could be done at the same time.

    VERBATIM: The Language Quarterly Vol IV No 2


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  • unit of beauty; amount sufficient to launch a single ship

    February 20, 2007

  • What a great word! I presume this derives from Helen of Troy?

    February 20, 2007

  • Yes, from Helen of Troy, in the phrase of Christopher Marlowe's Faustus: "Was this the face that launched a thousand ships...?" A milliHelen is a unit of gorgeousness sufficient to launch just one ship. A microHelen is enough to get one, maybe two, sailors all excited. Not exactly ugly, but fairly run-of-the-mill mud-fence sort of a mug, y'know?

    Bill Dunning

    Created by Isaac Asimov, so I'm told.

    September 1, 2008

  • David Lance Goines, in this very funny essay Helen of Troy , argues that the definition needs to be a little more complicated, to reflect Helen's accomplishments accurately.

    The exact citation from Marlowe states that Helen's face "launched a thousand ships, and burnt the topless towers of Ilium", suggesting that mere ship-launching ability is not enough, that any candidate measure of pulchritude also needs to capture skill as an arsonist.

    This leads to a revised definition of the millihelen as "beauty sufficient to launch one Homeric warship and burn down a house".

    November 3, 2008

  • Consider also inviting picohelen to your next party.

    November 3, 2008