1. pl. sphinx·es or sphin·ges (sfĭnjēz′)
a. Mythology A figure in Egyptian myth having the body of a lion and the head of a man, ram, or hawk.
b. often Sphinx Greek Mythology A winged creature having the head of a woman and the body of a lion, noted for killing those who could not answer its riddle.
2. pl. sphinxes A puzzling or mysterious person.
3. pl. sphinxes also sphinx Variant of sphynx.
[Middle English Spynx, from Latin Sphinx, from Greek.]
(click for a larger image)sphinx
detail of an early 5th-century bc black-figure lekythos showing Oedipus and the Sphinx
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.