The Chinese term 抓耳挠腮 means something along the lines of: scratching one's ears/cheeks/head in embarrassment or tweaking one's ears and scratching one's cheeks (as a sign of anxiety or delight).

Here are some examples:

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

  • What English phrases fit the description?
  • Yeah, scratching your head (figuratively or literally) is generally considered as sign of puzzlement. Stroking your chin is considered a sign of deep contemplation. Placing your palm over your face might be considered a sign of embarrassment. Tugging your earlobe has several different meanings.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 3, 2015 at 20:51

1 Answer 1


You already found the answer. It is scratching (one's head, chin, neck etc.). There isn't a special phrase for that, it is just a gesture and part of body language.

Scratching can indicate different emotions or states of mind, depending on where you scratch and other accompanying gestures. For example:

  • Scratching back of your head with a sheepish smile can indicate embarrassment
  • Scratching your chin/cheek and pouting can indicate anxiety and frustration. You might be dealing with a question also as your pictures show.

There can be many reasons also as the below picture suggests:

enter image description here

Decoding Body Language / slideshare.net

Beside gestures, scratch one's head is an idiomatic phrase also:

1 informal Think hard in order to find a solution to something.

1.1 Feel or express bewilderment.


  • 1
    I like this thing of putting pictures in the answer when there are pictures in the question, it's good stuff. 👍
    – user85526
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 0:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.