There are some people that would call it to bite, but it is wrong because you don't use the teeth.

Is there a verb or idiom for pressing with the lips?

Something like this: Jay Carney



3 Answers 3


This is called "pursed". In particular the second image illustrates this pretty well.

As some of the comments suggest, pursing can be ambiguous referring to outward/inward lip rolling. This following reference explains more, and explains the related body language signals (though, curiously, it all but omits the "pout").

Lip Body Language

"Pursed" lips are not to be confused with "pursed lip breathing", a technique used by folks suffering from COPD, et al, to achieve better air exchange in the lungs.

Wikipedia - Pursed lipped breathing

  • 4
    These faces seem like the exact opposite of pursed lips. But differences of opinions like these are precisely why we ask all answers to include evidence, in this case from a dictionary defining pursed lips, along with their answers. Otherwise it's just one man's word against another's. And I agree with Pichi that breathing is misplaced.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 19:29
  • 2
    Thanks for the edit! The Wikipedia article says "exhaling through tightly-pressed (pursed) lips", but didn't include any pictures. And all the pictures I of PLB show people pressing their lips outwards, not inwards, so I don't think PLB can refer to the lip position in the OP's question. In fact, I just tried holding my lips that way, and then exhaling, as the Wikipedia article said, and I can't pass air through in either direction. No, I still think "pursed" means "outwards, but I'll upvote for your conscientiousness.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 19:45
  • 3
    When lips are not visible, they are not pursed.
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 21:23
  • 2
    Definitely not 'pursed', as others have said. I'd suggest 'compressed' - googling that term brings up images similar to the OP's
    – peterG
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 22:54
  • 2
    -1. Definitely not pursed. Pursed lips are similar to when you whistle. Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 14:33

I think the best term is sucked in.

Here is the relevant definition from Changing Minds' glossary on body language, specifically lip positioning:

Sucked in

When lips are sucked into the mouth or turned under so the red part of the lips are hidden ('swallowing the lips'), this can indicate that the person is thinking and uncertain about something, which could easily be bad news.

  • 2
    I'm torn. I agree with this answer, but it's so badly presented, I don't think I can vote it up (yet). Can you remove all but the most pertinent passages from that quote? We don't need the whole thing, we can click through for all the gory details. Also prefix anything you quote with a > character, which will format it as an easy-on-the-eyes blockquote. I can do that part on your behalf, once you've trimmed down the details.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 20:52
  • It isn't a single quote. It is a glossary with all the possible words one can use to describe lips.
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 21:18
  • 1
    In that case, remove all the ones not directly related to the question being asked. In its current form, all it's going to do is get you a black mark in your record (not that you need to care about such things, but the problem is if you get enough of them, the SE software automatically kicks in some annoying sanctions, which are then hard to get out of).
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 21:19
  • I removed some of them. I still think it was fine, myself. Someone gave me a one. What is the matter with people? Just because the form is not to their liking? Come on.
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 21:22
  • 2
    I don't agree with your rewriting my words.I don't think puckered is problematic! That is precisely why I posted all the word related to positioning the lips. For pete's sake. I prefer putting my source at the end, not the beginning. Not worth the effort. You just didn't like it because it was long, and the online page was not well positioned. I really don't care except for the part about puckered.
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 21:29

It needs to be understood that "pursed", which is the most common description of the action pictured by the OP, is different from "pursed lip breathing".

When someone "purses" their lips they squeeze them together tightly, slightly "sucked in". This is as opposed to the "pout" which is squeezing the lips together with them (especially the bottom lip) projecting outward, or a "pucker", which is what one does when preparing to kiss. Pursing the lips is typically associated with either deep thought/concern or some sort of disapproval. Pouting, on the other hand, is associated with disappointment -- it's what a small child does when he does not get his way. (You can work puckering out for yourself.)

On the other hand, "pursed lip breathing" is a technique used by people with asthma, COPD, and other breathing disorders which involves inhaling through the nose or through the open mouth, then breathing out through lips that are pressed fairly tightly together. This action increases the air pressure in the lungs and helps alleviate obstruction due to narrowed air passages. It can, oddly, make it possible for the individual to exhale more thoroughly (more "deeply") than when breathing out through the "normal" open mouth. While the term "pursed" is used in the description, the way the lips are held is somewhat different, and pictures of individuals practicing this technique will not resemble someone who is "pursing" his lips while, eg, trying to decipher what it is I just said above.

  • Can you edit my answer so it sorts out the confusion you are describing here?
    – Snoop
    Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 0:23

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