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facepalm also face-palm or face palm

noun [countable]

the action of placing your hand flat across your face in order to show that you are frustrated or embarrassed about something

facepalm also face-palm or face palm

verb [intransitive]

'… Republican candidates Mike Cox, Tom George, Mike Bouchard and Peter Hoekstra inspired more than a few face palms from those of us who recognized the seriousness of the state's problems – but saw little seriousness from this unimpressive crew.'

Michigan View.com 20th May 2011

'… Alexis was let out of her cage for exactly 20 minutes to go buy some ugly cowboy boots. She asked if they carried the "Good Christian" style, you know … pink, bedazzled, and with a four inch heel … the poor sales guy of course facepalmed and said "no" and there was a lot of giggling …'

Chicago Now 30th April 2011

A smile, wink, frown, thumbs-up, thumbs-down, clenched fist, scratch of the head, grimace, furrow of the brow – all these are gestures of non-verbal communication which can convey our feelings far more effectively than words. And there's another gesture which you'll doubtless be familiar with, that expression of dismay, frustration or embarrassment conveyed by moving our hand up against our face. Though we may recognize it, how do we describe it? Well now there's finally a single term of reference for it: the word facepalm.

the facepalm is a gesture which is common in many cultures, and even sometimes seen in chimpanzees

If you're still having trouble visualizing exactly what a facepalm is, check out the following image. The facepalm is a gesture which is common in many cultures, and even sometimes seen in chimpanzees! Although a facepalm is usually used to express frustration or embarrassment, in the context of a surrounding conversation it can also be used to express other emotions, such as disgust or dismay. A facepalm is often a reaction to a momentary lapse in common sense, judgement, or logical behaviour. It can be directed towards another person – i.e.: a non-verbal way of saying "I can't believe you just said/did that …" – or used in a self-deprecating way to make it clear to others that you're aware that you've said or done something stupid.

Background – facepalm

The word facepalm is of course a compound (occurring as closed, hyphenated or open) formed from the nouns face and palm, where the latter refers to the inside part of the hand. It occurs as a countable noun and an intransitive verb.

Facepalm first appeared about five years ago, and has steadily gained ground as a popular term in Internet culture, galvanized by its status as an Internet meme (an idea that spreads very quickly via the Internet). One of the most popular facepalm images circulating the Web is of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, a character in the Star Trek Next Generation TV series, clutching his face in disbelief.

The word itself is most common in online discourse, where, much like LOL (an abbreviation for laughing out loud) it represents a conversational gesture or facial expression, effectively expressing a 'non-verbal' gesture in a 'verbal' way. There's also some evidence for the related term facefist, a kind of hyponym of facepalm which is used when a feeling of frustration is so overwhelming that you feel the need to punch yourself in the face – ouch!

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

Last week …

Read last week's BuzzWord. Sick.

This article was first published on 4th July 2011.

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