28 March 2008

Widow's Peak

This week in lab we were teaching about Mendelian genetics. Part of the lab involved students seeing if they had several traits that are inherited by just one gene. For example, the ability to roll one's tongue is dominant (while non-tongue rolling is recessive) As a child I was mocked by both my sister and Dad who both can roll their tongues while I cannot.

One of the other traits was the presence of a widow's peak (which is dominant to a straight hairline). Eddie Munster is a great example of a very drastic widow's peak.

Widow's peak is such an intriguing name and it got me thinking about the origins of that name. The Word Detective had this to say on the matter:

"Despite its name, a "widow's peak" is not a sign of age, although as one's hair thins with the passing seasons it may become more noticeable. But it's young women, if one believes the legends, who should beware of developing a "widow's peak." According to English folklore, a "widow's peak" indicates that the woman is destined to outlive her husband and thus become a widow. (The same principle applies, presumably, to men with "widower's peaks.") And if that weren't bad enough, there are things called "widow's locks," tiny tufts of oddly growing hair that can appear anywhere on your head and presage the same fate. "Widow's peak" first appeared in written English around 1849, but it's probably much older than that."
Take Our Word for It also adds that widows used to wear a distinctive hood with a pointed piece in front, called a biquoquet (or widow's hood). The only example of this headgear I could find by searching around was this painting of Marie Antoinette from about 1795. This does look just like a widow's peak so I see the connection. It seems only logical that people noticed the connection and the superstition then arose.

While I don't think most people today are aware of the superstition, several of my students did seem a little embarrassed to admit they had one. I've always liked my peak, but I did have a roommate freshmen year in college who would pluck and shave hers off (for aesthetic reasons and not out of fear of becoming a widow).


LatinoJuan said...

Its interesting your roommate shaved her widow's peak, are they usually considered unattractive?

Joyaux said...

Well, my maternal grandmother once told me that Merle Oberon, considered a famous beauty, actually underwent surgery to CREATE a widow's peak, because they were considered very attractive, completing the coveted heart-shaped face.

Then again, she was telling me this because I have one, from my PATERNAL grandmother.