There was the following sentence in Time magazine (September 16) titled “”America’s weak and waffling. Russia’s rich and resurgent”:

“2008 summer also put Russia’s military to the test when a war broke out with Georgia. Although Russia crashed its tiny adversary in less than a week, its war machine was shown to be an inefficient wreck. More tanks were lost to malfunction than enemy fire, and at one time Russian officers were forced to use store-bought navigation gadgets after the official ones gave out. “There were a lot of red faces in the general staff,” recalls Sivkov, the military strategist.

Oxford online English Dictionary doesn’t carry the ‘red-face’ as a headword, but includes ‘red-faced’ as an adjective meaning ‘having a red face, especially as a result of embarrassment or shame.’

Cambridge online English Dictionary has entry of neither ‘red face’ nor ‘red-faced.’

Now, what does ‘red faces’ in the above quote exactly mean? Does it refer to people (Russian army’s general staff) with red face, or their sentiment (anger / embarrassment about the incompetence of their war machine)?

Why is it ‘in’, not ‘among’ the general staff?

  • Because white-skinned Europeans have a characteristic temporary facial reddening -- like sunburn -- that can be caused by embarrassment. The blood vessels widen and the white skin reddens; it's an unconscious reaction, and therefore people relate it to its cause. If you're a white European, saying My face is red means you're embarrassed. I have no idea what it might mean to anybody with a different skin configuration. Nov 3, 2013 at 2:11
  • Here the slight spelling/grammar difference is not a different meaning: the generals have red faces, therefore they are red-faced, they are embarrassed.
    – Mitch
    Nov 3, 2013 at 3:02
  • The term "red faced" is used in many cultures and languages to mean exactly the same thing. Amazing. What an internationally accepted term! Nov 3, 2013 at 9:25

2 Answers 2


"Red faces" means people who are blushing from embarrassment. As far as I know, the expression is not generally used to indicate anger. The expression is figurative, it doesn't mean the people were actually blushing, just that they had done something worthy of being ashamed about.

You are correct that among would have worked as well or better than in.

  • 1
    "Red-faced" is most certainly used for anger or rage but I agree that it represents shame or embarrassment in the OP's example. Nov 3, 2013 at 3:07
  • @KristinaLopez, I would say that someone is red in the face if he's angry, rather than red-faced. Nov 3, 2013 at 3:29
  • @JanusBahsJacquet, "red in the face" is idiomatic for sure but that doesn't exclude the use of "red-faced" for anger...just saying. :-) Nov 3, 2013 at 3:47
  • @KristinaLopez I think the generic "red-face" is embarrassment. You can certainly mean "red-faced with anger" but then you have to actually specify it. Nov 6, 2013 at 3:50

It is often used to describe embarrassment, as in 'the blood flowed rapidly into his face' to describe the physical reaction one has when embarrassed.

I have never heard it used in relation to other emotions, such as anger.

  • 1
    That is surprising. I've seen 'red-faced with rage' used a lot of times! Nov 3, 2013 at 6:08
  • 1
    @mikhailcazi - True. Cool Ngram, for what it's worth.
    – J.R.
    Nov 3, 2013 at 9:29
  • @J.R. Extending the timeline a bit further back, the embarrassment connotation to being red-faced seems to have started around the 1940s. Anger around 1910, and it also seems that rage was used a lot before eith anger or embarrassment. Certainly an interesting Ngram! :D Nov 3, 2013 at 10:03
  • Whoa, but then pushing it even further back to the 1890s shows that embarrassment was the first to be used, followed by rage and then anger...! Nov 3, 2013 at 10:04

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