I have searched for a single word in English that expresses this condition: If I watch something on television ( most notably "slap-stick humor" ), I find my face flushed, hot and prickly; there is an extreme embarrassment and involuntary turning of my head away; my mind registers the input as being incredibly stupid and revolting; my stomach turns with a sickening pain; the feeling is extreme enough to be considered physical pain, as well as psychological. Imagine sitting in a chair watching an old Jerry Lewis comedy on TV, and the silly tone of his speech, as well as his body antics, make me cringe with the above condition. Any words to describe this?

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    Revulsion. Though I personally have never found slapstick revolting. Boring, sometimes ... – Edwin Ashworth Oct 3 '14 at 13:08
  • I used slapstick as the most relevant example, but it also applies to various social situations,i.e. when you anonymously witness someone trying to impress another person with what they think is clever wit and encyclopedic knowledge...or when you make a statement, and someone answers with one sexual innuendo after another, regardless of your response. – Marc Buss Oct 3 '14 at 13:34
  • Take 2 aspirin and call us in the morning. – Drew Oct 3 '14 at 16:01
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    It sounds like you're mortified by these displays... – anongoodnurse Oct 3 '14 at 16:34
  • Yeah, not really a good word for it. Revulsion was the first that came to mind, but is better reserved for truly offensive material. Mortified, to me, still carries a hint of death, and is better reserved for public humiliation. Repulsed avoids those connotations but is a bit lame. (But I well know the feeling, in roughly the same scenarios.) – Hot Licks Oct 3 '14 at 21:11

What you are describing sounds like vicarious embarrassment. Apparently, like Schadenfreude (German, meaning satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else's misfortune), it has no English equivalent.

Here is a summary article, 14 More Wonderful Words With No English Equivalent from the site Mental Floss, that give a couple of words that can be borrowed (just like schadenfreude):

German: Fremdschämen

Finnish: Myötähäpeä

both described this way:

The kindler, gentler cousins of Schadenfreude, both these words mean something akin to "vicarious embarrassment.” Or, in other words, that-feeling-you-get-when-you-watch-Meet the Parents.



to subject to severe and vexing embarrassment

Ref: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mortify


I would say, "I am repulsed by what I just witnessed."

The Macmillan Dictionary has two definitions for repulsion, both of which could be how your examples make you feel:

1) a strong feeling of disliking someone or something that is so unpleasant that you feel slightly sick when you see them or think about them

2) physics an electrical or magnetic force that makes things move away from each other

  • I would say the first definition of repulsed is the closest way to describe the feeling; a shame that a culture like mine (North American), which is always inventing new words, does not seem concerned with creating new verbs to describe being. – Marc Buss Oct 3 '14 at 14:13
  • @MarcBuss, I agree with you on the 1st definition but found that the 2nd definition is growing on me since the whole act of averting or closing your eyes or even turning your head to block out the offensive image is, in a very literal way, moving one thing (you) away from another (the offending thing). – Kristina Lopez Oct 3 '14 at 14:18
  • Okay, upvoted this despite my own competing suggestions. Very close to revulsion, but perhaps better nuances... – Kibitzologist Oct 3 '14 at 19:39

The word cringe might be useful here. It is to have a physical reaction to something that triggers your senses in a disruptive way. It doesn't necessarily mean you are revolted by it or think it intrinsically malicious or morally bad. But unlike just saying you are "embarrassed" it points the source of the reaction as coming from something outside yourself.

You could also describe the material itself as being cringeworthy (oxforddictionaries.com lists it as a single-word.)

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    i know exactly the feeling OP describes, and this is the best answer so far. OP did not do something embarrassing, nor did they see something disgusting or revolting. they saw someone else do something that would embarrass them if they had done it. cringeworthy is a great word for that. – user428517 Oct 3 '14 at 22:24
  • @sgroves seeing someone else do something that would embarrass them if they had done it -- yes, that's what I was thinking. Perhaps that should be asked if it's the OP's intent. If that is what they mean, then this is the best answer. :-) Because that is what I thought when I read it. But if that's not what they meant then it's not the right shade of meaning. – HostileFork says dont trust SE Oct 4 '14 at 4:38

I would call it Suffering.

Suffering broadly may be categorized as physical or psychological, aka mental. It may come in all degrees of intensity, from mild to intolerable. Low-magnitude suffering may be called discomfort, whereas high-magnitude suffering is called agony.

  • Yes, it would be suffering, but I was looking for a verb to describe myself; such as: "I am mortified." Though, mortify does not accurately describe it. – Marc Buss Oct 3 '14 at 13:37

Dismay maybe?--it CAN be gut-sinking. Or if you want an intellectualized neologism I'm firing up quasisapientphobia for you!... =]

Alienation might work too...

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    Hmmm..alienation would seem to be an "effect" of the stimulus; much like Holden Caufield in 'Catcher in the Rye'..preferably without the end result of a trip to the psychiatric ward..I think Kristina may be close with "repulsion", but I suspect English may not be a language that accurately describes intense emotional feelings. – Marc Buss Oct 3 '14 at 14:04
  • I think you have a point, @MarcBuss. My Spanish-as-his-native-language husband who has an outstanding command of English is frequently amazed that we have so relatively few words to describe shades of emotions. – Kristina Lopez Oct 3 '14 at 21:37

-TRIGGERED- From a future stance to your question, it's sounds like you were "triggered." Maybe certain events that you witness would be, to you, considered socially unacceptable, and can cause you stress Emotional stress can cause physical pain. And, hypothetically, bottling up your unhappiness could be enough to cause this stress when you hear people joking about something or having a good time As far as the mannerisms doing this, that's some DEEP psychological attachments. Subconsciously you could have certain actions linked to certain emotions, linked to physical responses. I wouldn't say suffering or revolted because they seem too broad to define what your after. Especially with the amount of detail you give. "Cringe" was probably closest to the action, but I would say you were triggered or repulsed Another word to look at is Psychalgia.

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    Hi David, welcome to EL&U. This isn't a bad start, but the system has flagged it as "low-quality because of its length and content." An answer on EL&U is expected to be authoritative, detailed, and explain why it is correct. It's best if you edit your answer to provide supporting evidence - e.g., add a published definition of triggered (linked to the source) and how it would be used in this context. For further guidance, see How to Answer and take the EL&U Tour :-) – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Jan 12 '19 at 10:22

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