mid-13c., contenaunce, "behavior, bearing, conduct, manners;" early 14c., "outward appearance, looks," from Old French contenance "demeanor, bearing, conduct," from Latin continentia "restraint, abstemiousness, moderation," literally "way one contains oneself," from continentem, present participle of continere "to hold together, enclose," from assimilated form of com "with, together" (see con-) + tenere "to hold," from PIE root *ten- "to stretch."
The meaning evolved in late Middle English from "appearance" to "facial expression betraying or expressing a state of mind," to "the face" itself. Hence also, figuratively, "aspect imparted to anything."
Also formerly "controlled behavior, self-control, composure" (c. 1300); in Chaucer to catch (one's) contenaunce is to gain self-control. In later Middle English it also could mean "outward show, pretense."
late 15c., contenauncen, "to behave or act (as if)," from countenance (n.). Sense of "to favor, appear friendly to, patronize" is from 1560s, from notion of "to look upon with sanction or smiles." Related: Countenanced; countenancing.
updated on January 12, 2022