The dictionary says "Sallow" is about complexion/face. Can we extend the same to talk about body in general?

Eg., Her body grew sallow


2 Answers 2


There's nothing prohibiting it. The Dictionary.com definition is:

sallow - adjective sal·low·er, sal·low·est
-of a sickly, yellowish or lightish brown color

examples: sallow cheeks; a sallow complexion.

You'll notice that the definition doesn't itself even mention the face, though the example does, but only in the first example with "cheeks," not in the second with "complexion," the definition of "complexion being:

complexion - noun
-the natural color, texture, and appearance of the skin, especially of the face

example: a clear, smooth, rosy complexion.

You'll notice "complexion" refers to the "appearance of the skin." Adding "especially of the face," means not just the face but any skin. Had it wanted to limit the definition to only the face, it'd have said "appearance of the skin of the face."

So since neither the definition of ""sallow" defines it as describing a face but only "complexion," and since "complexion" isn't limited to the "face," you could use "sallow" to describe a person's body, like maybe you bring a newborn baby home from the hospital and she has become jaundiced such that, as you are changing the her, you noticed she has a sickly, yellowish skin tone all over her body, you may describe the baby — not just the baby's face — as appearing "sallow."

  • Based on this same interpretation, I assume many more words which include, "especially" at the end in their definitions, can be extended to include more. Interesting--I never read the definitions like that. Doesn't "especially" single-out one specific context over others?
    – Ammu
    Commented May 22, 2021 at 11:41
  • 1
    @Ammu - Yes, that assumption is correct. Using "especially" in such a way as is used in that definition singles out and emphasizes what it describes and acknowledges at least one alternative to what it describes exists. "Especially" specifies, which can only occur when there are others from which to specify. Commented May 22, 2021 at 21:51
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    @Ammu - You asked, "Doesn't "especially" single-out one specific context over others?" Yes, it does, so it acknowledges those others exist, meaning that while this singled-out context is over the others, the others beneath it still exist as contexts in which it is used. Commented May 22, 2021 at 21:57

You can use it that way, though it's most commonly used to describe someone's face or complexion. I've heard 'a sallow youth' but never 'a sallow body'. Ngram seems to confirm this. As you see, Google Books finds only six examples of 'grew sallow' at the peak of its popularity, and even fewer examples of 'grow sallow'.

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