I came across the expression "the face that launched a thousand ships" that describes a heavenly beautiful woman but at then end of this web page, it says "The term is also often parodied":

Today, the face that launched a thousand ships is still most often used to describe the unsurpassed beauty of Helen of Troy, though it may be used to describe the beauty of any woman. The term is also often parodied.

So my question is: Can I use this expression to describe a female in a more sincere/earnest way, rather than in a mocking/joking way?

BTW: This comment in another question seems to suggest that this expression is mostly used in a joking way:

A related joke is the dictionary definition "Millihelen: Unit of beauty sufficient to launch one ship".

  • Because of the parodies you would need to take particular care that it is understood seriously.
    – Peter
    Oct 17, 2021 at 14:09
  • Marlowe coined the expression with particular reference to the character Helen of Troy (because her elopement was the cause of the Trojan War). Obviously, a woman's beauty doesn't normally cause ships to be launched, so you would have to be careful how you expressed yourself if you were using it seriously. Oct 17, 2021 at 14:29

1 Answer 1


Unless you are describing Helen of Troy. or you are making a particular poetic analogy between this woman and Helen, then you can't really quote this phrase. It would sound odd to hear a conversation.

I heard John's new girlfriend is very beautiful.

Yes she has a face that would launch a thousand ships.

It is too poetic for such prosaic use.

If you are writing a Valentine's day card, or song lyrics etc, then maybe. B

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