The lineaments of good writing

From William Gibson's Zero History, the third book of his most recent trilogy, which I read last month:

  • "They were well through Conway, or in any case through the malled-over fringes of whatever Conway was. Buildings were thinning out, the landscape revealing the lineaments of an extinct agriculture."

The American Heritage Dictionary gives these definitions for lineament:

  • 1. A distinctive shape, contour, or line, especially of the face.
  • 2. A definitive or characteristic feature. Often used in the plural: "the gross and subtle folds of corruption on the average senatorial face are hardly the lineaments of virtue" (Norman Mailer).

The OED is more expansive and gives some obsolete meanings:

  • 1a. A line; also, a delineation, diagram, outline, sketch; plural outlines, designs. Literal and figurative. Obsolete.
  • 1b. A minute portion, a trace; plural elements, rudiments. Obsolete.
  • 2a. A portion of the body, considered with respect to its contour or outline, a distinctive feature. Obsolete.
  • 2b.Figurative in plural (Now associated with the narrower sense 3) Distinctive features or characteristics.
  • 3. In narrower sense, a portion of the face viewed with respect to its outline; a feature.

The AHD etymology:

  • Middle English liniament, from the Latin līneāmentum, from līnea, meaning line.