quoted from:

To Forget: The look on your son’s face when you accused him of taking fifty dollars out of your purse. You were so certain; nothing he said could sway you. You watched his face crack open and your world shifted, but you convinced yourself that in this one case, principle was more important than love. You were wrong."

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    Welcome to ELU! Did you attempt to do any research? If so, please share this with the community, so that we don't duplicate efforts. – Nicole Apr 14 '15 at 23:27
  • I think the interpretations given here are correct but I want to emphasize that nothing about this sentence is idiomatic. It's intended (I assume) to be poetic and evocative. – Malvolio Apr 15 '15 at 1:07
  • @Malvolio, thank for your comment but the interpretations given here are contradicting with each other! which one do you think is correct exactly and why? – Jhon Smith Apr 15 '15 at 1:15
  • All of them understand it to mean that the change in his facial expression revealed his emotions -- which in this case are negative, but people might also use in a positive case, as in "crack a smile". I don't know if the image is "disturbing a previously smooth and unmarked surface" (like a crack in glass or ice) or "breaking a covering and revealing what is underneath" (like a crack in paint), but the final meaning is the same. – Malvolio Apr 15 '15 at 1:23
  • If you wait, voters will pick out the best answer for you. It is more helpful than challenging responses. All responses are personal opinions. In spite of that, they are all more or less saying the same thing. Did you attempt to do any research? If so, please share this with the community, so that we don't duplicate your efforts. – anongoodnurse Apr 15 '15 at 5:11

That passage is from the flash fiction story Note To Self by Tracy Guzeman. The protagonist makes a brief list of life memories, those she would chose to forget and those she would chose to remember.

She would chose to forget the memory of the look on her son's face, presumably this is one of the most painful memories in her life - she has chosen to accuse her son without proof, and has hurt him deeply, which she regrets. My interpretation of "crack open" is that the son's face reveals the pain and perhaps change in perception about his mother, and "your world shifted" is the effect this has on the mother, perhaps a change in perception about who she is, or what is happening to her. I won't spoil the story in case you wish to read it, being flash fiction it is very brief.

Of note is the following in Wikipedia's article about flash fiction, emphasis mine:

Unlike a vignette, flash fiction often contains the classic story elements: protagonist, conflict, obstacles or complications, and resolution. However, unlike a traditional short story, the limited word length often forces some of these elements to remain unwritten – that is, hinted at or implied in the written storyline. Different readers thus may have different interpretations.

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    Nice answer. +1 I've never even heard of flash fiction. Thanks for the link. – anongoodnurse Apr 15 '15 at 5:07
  • @JhonSmith you are welcome - and don't forget to upvote and select my answer if you are satisfied with it. – amdn Apr 15 '15 at 15:40
  • @amdn, I tried to do so but I think i'm short of enough reputation to do that! – Jhon Smith Apr 15 '15 at 15:44
  • @JhonSmith you should at least have enough reputation to select the best answer – amdn Apr 15 '15 at 15:45
  • @JhonSmith, low reputation won't stop you from Accepting. The system won't let anyone accept an answer until a specific time period has gone by (don't remember how long this is). Enough time has passed by now. – Cyberherbalist Apr 15 '15 at 20:50

She saw from the look on his face how much she had hurt him. The idiom conveys that hurt with the use of the word "cracking." So it's as if her action broke him open. It's a nice piece of writing.


'crack open' is an idiom here meaning 'exposed', 'disclosed'.

You watched his face exposed and your world shifted ...

'Unmasked' is another synonym:

You watched his face unmasked and your world shifted ...

  • then, would you please paraphrase the target sentence regarding its context? – Jhon Smith Apr 14 '15 at 23:48
  • Just edited. 'Exposed' is a synonym for 'crack open' – alx Apr 14 '15 at 23:51
  • But Sarah has another opinion. what do you think about her idea. (hurt) – Jhon Smith Apr 15 '15 at 0:07
  • idioms.thefreedictionary.com/crack+open gives this example: 2. Fig. to expose and reveal some great wrongdoing. The police cracked the drug ring wide open. The newspaper story cracked the trouble at city hall wide open. – alx Apr 15 '15 at 0:19
  • yes, I have been searching for this for about 3 days and this reference was the first one I read. thank you very much for you time. I think you mean: she saw from her son's face the truth being revealed and found out that her son was guilty. but I guess the rest of the context shows that she has seen something at her son's face that makes her so upset ("your world shifted) but she still decide not to change her position due to principle being more important than love. – Jhon Smith Apr 15 '15 at 0:33

I'm not certain how far back this might go, but the sci-fi author Clifford Simak used a literal case of "face cracking open" to describe how an alien being revealed himself to a human in his 1963 novel Way Station.

The reference in your quote is some sort of idiom for the unpleasant discovery that someone is not really who one thought they were. E.g. a wife discovers that her loving husband is in reality a cold-blooded contract killer.

Or something like that.

  • my friend, do you think that "crack open" is NOT an adverb of manner for the verb "watch" here? ( the author is not saying: you watched his face cracking/cracked open) – Jhon Smith Apr 14 '15 at 23:40
  • @JhonSmith: huh? "You watched his face crack open" doesn't mean that you watched his face crack open? That's an interesting claim, sir, but it doesn't hold water. And what the heck is an "adverb of manner" and what does it have to do with anything here? And I didn't mean it was to be take literally. Just that Simak had written something that was literal. – Cyberherbalist Apr 15 '15 at 16:05
  • thank you for your time. I think amdn has cleared the issue. Adverbs of manner tell us how something happens. They are usually placed either after the main verb or after the object. EXAMPLES He swims well. He ran quickly. She spoke softly. James coughed loudly to attract her attention. He plays the flute beautifully. (after the direct object) He ate the chocolate cake greedily. (after the direct object) – Jhon Smith Apr 15 '15 at 18:19
  • @JhonSmith, thanks for the clarification! Had not heard that term before and was wondering what manners had to do with adverbs! :-) Seriously, I was puzzled. Sorry if I seemed abrasive. – Cyberherbalist Apr 15 '15 at 20:46

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