Okay, we all know what a facepalm is. It has pretty much entered the modern vernacular as both a noun and a verb ("to facepalm").

However, I was wondering if there was a more formal word to describe the gesture of hanging your head into the palms of your hands. The thing about a facepalm is that it usually describes extreme frustration at a perceived idiocy, but this is not the only situation where the same gesture applies: Desperation, embarrassment, exhaustion (both mental and physical) and concentration can all induce it.

If there is no such word (or words) to describe it, how did authors of old show this gesture? After all, I can't see Tolkien or Nabokov writing about a character who "facepalms" at a certain comment or situation.

  • 2
    "Frodo isn't actually tap dancing right now", Aragorn said as he put his palm on his face.
    – Tushar Raj
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 10:26
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    "Dude, he has like a thousand acres," facepalmed Elizabeth Bennett.
    – David Pugh
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 10:34
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    I once posted something on the internet which ended with a sentence along the lines "... the tolling of a thousand foreheads being simultaneously slapped in incredulity!". Some stranger responded that to congrats and thank me for spelling incredulity correctly. We've been close friends for 10 years.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 11:08
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    @Dan "Send not to know for whom the face palms, it palms for thee".
    – David Pugh
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 12:03
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    @DanBron Those of us who are here encountering the term for the first time are implicitly characterized as nonentities by such a formulation. I find myself sufficiently countercultural to be the exception to many thoughtless generalizations predicating something or other of "everyone" or "nobody." These occasions remind me of a time when I was all alone at a work site, installing oak flooring, and the foreman's girlfriend popped in. She looked around and then said "I guess there's nobody here"--not a wise thing to say to a man with a five-pound flooring hammer in his hand! Commented May 4, 2015 at 13:45

3 Answers 3


Hide one's face is an idiomatic expression which is close in meaning to facepalm:

  • Also, hide one's head. Feel shame or embarrassment. For example, You needn't hide your face-you're not to blame, or Whenever the teacher singled her out for something, shy little Mary hid her head. This idiom alludes to the gesture indicative of these feelings. [Late 1500s] (AHD)

Hide one's face in shame:

  • Fig. to cover one's face because of shame or embarrassment. Mary was so embarrassed. She could only hide her face in shame. When Tom broke Ann's crystal vase, he wanted to hide his face in shame. (AHD)


  • A gesture in which the palm of one’s hand is brought to one’s face as an expression of dismay, exasperation, embarrassment, etc.(ODO)

You should note that facepalm is an expression ...

... found primarily in real-time text communication on the Internet, often involving image macros or ASCII art of someone facepalming .

enter image description here

  • I believe the canonical facepalm image is this.
    – Jason C
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 13:56
  • @JasonC Really? I always thought it was the picard one.
    – Benubird
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 8:14
  • The facepalm has more to do with exasperation than shame.
    – dangph
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 5:06

The OP suggested an excellent expression:

Hang head [in shame]

to be ashamed

Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed.

Today's top image on a Google search of hang your head was suggested as the archetypical facepalm in a comment by Jason C:

enter image description here

  • Hang your head! mental health'll drive you mad!
    – user98990
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 18:34

If you're looking for a more exasperated facepalm, I like to use the expressions "pinched the bridge of his nose" or "placed his head in his hands with an exasperated sigh."

These seem to get across the point of a facepalm while also sounding more formal in nature.

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