In Swedish - which is my native tongue - there's an expression "hålla färgen" (literally: "hold color") which means to not reveal oneself or to not reveal ones emotions or thoughts about something. Quite similar to having a poker face I guess.

I'm looking for an english equivalent in verb form i.e it should be something you do instead of something you have.

Edit: To address the comment about context with an example:

"A month after the bad break-up they met again but he was trying his hardest to ... " (hålla färgen).

In this example he tries not show his emotions, in a way he's "keeping up appearances". He tries to act as if this has not bothered him. Maybe keeping up appearances is what I'm looking for here.

  • Not a verb, but sphinxlike is used, often with stared or sat.
    – bib
    Nov 3, 2015 at 15:27
  • 3
    'John remained impassive for the whole time.' or 'Refusing to laugh, John maintained a poker face.' or 'John held his emotions in check.' We need an example of a sentence that shows how you wish to use the expression. Please give some context. Nov 3, 2015 at 15:34
  • I might say Vulcan-like Nov 3, 2015 at 19:19
  • A somewhat uncommon idiom that seems very much on point in the situation you describe is "keep up the mask," or (somewhat less vividly) "keep up appearances."
    – Sven Yargs
    Nov 3, 2015 at 20:13
  • In what context is "hålla färgen" ordinarily used?
    – user139454
    Nov 3, 2015 at 20:19

14 Answers 14


In American English, we often call this having a "deadpan" expression:

deadpan adj
Impassively matter-of-fact, as in style, behavior, or expression: deadpan delivery of the joke.


Etymonline gives this origin:

1928, from dead (adj.) + pan (n.) in slang sense of "face."

So it arrives via a description of an absolutely lifeless expression, giving nothing away.


As you say, Poker face is the best. It can be used as the object in a sentence:

"He wore / put on / displayed his best poker face during the trial."


No one has suggested keep a stiff upper lip yet. It's not an exact match (may not apply to all emotions), but can work in certain contexts.

stiff upper lip: self-restraint in the expression of emotion (especially fear or grief)


Example: When she heard the bad news, she kept a stiff upper lip.

  • Do even the British still use that expression?
    – Robusto
    Nov 3, 2015 at 17:36
  • 1
    Perhaps not colloquially. But it's alive and well in books at least: books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – A.P.
    Nov 3, 2015 at 17:42

'Stony faced' or 'stony-faced'.

From the Oxford Standard Dictionary Online (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/stony-faced):

Definition of stony-faced in English:
Showing no emotion; impassive:
a cold-blooded, stony-faced assassin
the foreign minister sat stony-faced and without applauding
However, even the worst sketches elicit a happy groan rather than stony-faced silence.
For their part, the women sat stony-faced, watching their menfolk make fools of themselves.
The campaigners, however, face a stony-faced industry with the law on its side.

From the OED (http://findwords.info/term/stony):

stony ▪ I.stony, a.
Forms: 1 stániᵹ, 3 stoni, 3–4 stani, 4–5 stany, 5–6 stonye, 6 stoany, Sc. staany, 6–7 stonie, 7 Sc. stanie, 7– stoney, 4– stony. [OE. stániᵹ = OHG. steinag, Goth. stainah-s:—OTeut. *stainaᵹo-, -aχo-, f. *staino- stone n.: see -y. (OE. had also stǽniᵹ:—OTeut. type *stainīᵹo-.)]

  1. Combinations, etc. a. In advb. comb. with adjs., as stony-blind (= stone-blind), stony-pitiless. b. Parasynthetic formations, as stony-eyed, stony-faced, stony-jointed, stony-toed, stony-winged adjs. c. Special comb. and collocations: stony bone (tr. med.L. os petrosum: see petrosal; cf. rocky a.1 3 a), the petrous portion of the temporal bone, containing the internal ear; stony-broke a. (slang) = stone-broke (stone n. 20 a); stony coal = stone-coal; stony cobbler (see quot.); stony colic, colic due to an intestinal concretion (cf. stone-colic, stone n. 20 a); stony coral = stone-coral (stone n. 20 b); stony-iron n. and a., used to designate meteorites which contain appreciable quantities of both stony material and iron; Stony Mountains, the Rocky Mountains (see rocky a.1 1 b); stony sage (see quot.).
    1933 M. Arlen Man's Mortality xv. 315 Manteuffel, staring *stony-faced towards the darkness..appeared not to have heard his question. 1975 F. Bresler You & Law 81 Even in this stony-faced sector of the law, fairness prevails.
  • 1
    Stony-faced is the one I would immediately jump to - but in the spirit of verbing, 'Remained stony faced' is the phrase that springs to mind: books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – SeanR
    Nov 4, 2015 at 9:45

A similar idiom:

He is keeping his cards close to the/his vest.

A similar example is to be "tight-lipped", but that is both not a verb and not quite the right shade of meaning (implies only that the person isn't speaking about it, but may communicate his emotions in nonverbal ways).

  • 1
    +1 Often expressed as play it close to the vest.
    – bib
    Nov 3, 2015 at 15:20
  • 1
    This might be a UK thing, but I rarely see this as "vest" and more frequently see it as "chest".
    – Tom Bowen
    Nov 4, 2015 at 9:59

"to keep cool" or "to keep one's cool" might be the verb phrase that most closely matches the Swedish.

Johnny was furious that Suzie had broken down his door, but he managed to keep his cool and greeted her calmly.

I know you're excited to meet your new teacher. Keep cool; he should be arriving any minute.


"not turn a hair" means to be quite calm and undisturbed.

to not show any emotion when you are told something bad or when something bad happens. TFD

I was expecting her to be furious but she didn't turn a hair.

  • "She didn't turn a hair during the bank robbery."
  • "When he received the news of the accident, he didn't turn a hair."
  • I'm always fascinated to hear colloquialisms I don't recall ever seeing. I live in central Canada and this expression is completely foreign to me.
    – ghoppe
    Nov 3, 2015 at 18:29

keep a level head and keep one's head

: to stay calm, rational, and in control, esp. when it's hard to do so. Webster's New World American Idioms Handbook

levelheaded: adj. characteristically self-composed and sensible

have/get a grip on oneself: have/get control of one's emotions. McGraw-Hill's Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions

I have a grip on myself that would make a boa constrictor proud Corruption Officer: From Jail Guard to Perpetrator Inside Rikers Island


"He didn't bat an eye." essentially means showing no visible reaction to something which was supposed to be surprising. Somewhat different is "he took it in stride" which usually means that he continued whatever he was doing in spite of a setback being reported.

  • Often - in Britain anyway, "he didn't bat an eyelid".
    – WS2
    Mar 7, 2018 at 9:19

There is the expression, to be/remain as cool as a cucumber:

  • to be very calm and relaxed, especially in a difficult situation;

    • I expected him to be all nervous before his interview but he was as cool as a cucumber.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms

or be/stay cool, calm and collected:

  • Calm and composed, self-possessed.
    • No matter what the board decides, you have to appear cool, calm, and collected in front of the stockholders.

McGraw-Hill's Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions


All the above are valid but in different contexts. You might keep a poker face or play your cards close to your chest [or vest in the US] if you did not want someone to know what you were thinking. You could keep a straight face if you were trying not to laugh or keep a stiff upper lip [yes, we still do say it] if you were trying not to cry.


Even though Person A was talking nonsense I held a straight face the entire time and then grilled him on the details.


There is also the metaphor of "clamming up", which would be more of a suppressive (often specifically information, but emotions as well) variety.


In psychological terminology,

'To have a flat affect', or 'To have a blunted affect'

Also related to 'Reduced affect', 'Restricted affect' and 'Constricted affect'

The Wikipedia entry for 'Reduced affect' is well referenced and I can confirm the information sourced from the ICD-10 Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders, and the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition:

Blunted affect is a lack of affect more severe than restricted or constricted affect, but less severe than flat or flattened affect. "The difference between flat and blunted affect is in degree. A person with flat affect has no or nearly no emotional expression. He or she may not react at all to circumstances that usually evoke strong emotions in others. A person with blunted affect, on the other hand, has a significantly reduced intensity in emotional expression".


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