What do you call this pose/ position that we adopt when we are very sad or depressed? (For example; when we feel heartbroken or have lost someone or something important.)

P.S. I know that some people sleep in the "fetal position" that is kind of similar to this sitting position, can I use "sitting in the fetal position" too?

Fetal position (British English: also foetal) is the positioning of the body of a prenatal fetus as it develops. In this position, the back is curved, the head is bowed, and the limbs are bent and drawn up to the torso.


We Iranians use a single word and also a (figurative) expression for referring to this position/ pose. I don't know how to translate that single word, but the expression literally says "to hug the knee(s) of sadness". For example:

"Why have you sitted in this corner and hugged the knees of sadness like this? Has the world come to an end?!!, Come on, pull yourself together,...".

I don't know if I can use "to hug one's knees" for describing or mentioning this position or not.

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    This is a "crash or brace position," just not on a seat but on flat ground.
    – vickyace
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 6:46
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    @vickyace That is a good description if you are describing an image dispassionately. But I don't think it is a description most people would reach for to describe someone who had slid down the wall in an exhausted or sorrowful way to achieve this pose?
    – Spagirl
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 10:01
  • Crude jokesters (not me, of course, hence a comment!) equate the sitting fetal or crash/brace position with Kissing your ass goodbye, so maybe you could ask Why are you kissing your ass goodbye like that?
    – Papa Poule
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 15:45
  • Yes, you can call it sitting in the f(o)etal position. That is exactly what came to mind when I looked at the pictures, before reading your text. It is much more evocative of the emotion of the position than any mechanical description of the position. (Note that actual fetuses in utero don't have any particular orientation; they might be upright, on their side, or, ideally, head-down.)
    – 1006a
    Commented May 22, 2017 at 20:28
  • Do you have to be sitting on the ground for this? What if you're sitting in a chair? People (even depressed ones) are more likely to be sitting in a chair and sitting on the ground sort of confuses the situation.
    – Mitch
    Commented May 22, 2017 at 20:43

2 Answers 2


Yes, in idiomatic American English, at least, "hugging one's knees" is exactly the phrase to use to convey the pose you describe. However, "hugging the knees of sadness" is not used.

Your example:

Why are you sitting in the corner hugging your knees like that? Has the world come to an end? Come on, pull yourself together!

If you don't need to specific about the pose, you could use "moping", and readers might picture the right pose, anyway.

Why are you sitting in the corner, moping like that? Has the world come to an end? ....

But this isn't always the right word.

Captions to your example pics might be:

  • "Overcome by the utter humiliation he'd suffered, Kevin hid behind the wall, hugging his knees, and crying."

  • "Sure that his parents would never understand, Steve sat on the floor next to his bed, hugging his knees and wondering how he could tell them the truth."

  • "Bored, and a little melancholy, Susan sat on the bench and hugged her knees, head to the side, watching all the happy, purposeful, people walk by."

Note that sadness is not a requirement of the pose or the phrase:

  • "The children waited in the corner, bright-eyed but patient, hugging their knees and trembling, ready at a word to burst into joyful, excited movement."
  • Very nice answer indeed! __ "hugging one's knees" is exactly the ph(r)ase to use to convey the pose your describe" __ here is a useful answer for OP! Commented May 22, 2017 at 23:40

Hunched, head tucked between the knees/legs. As far as I know, there really isn't a specific posture name in the general domain, though there may be a medical name as I believe it's a pose that helps in some circumstances.

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    On my First Aid course we were taught this position helps those suffering from symptoms of heart attack because it reduces the strain on the heart. Raising the legs can make the heart work harder because it has to pump quite a lot of blood uphill. Nevertheless, incorrect (or even correct) medical advice is not what this site is for, and what I was taught may have been superseded. I would suggest editing to change everything after helps to "in some circumstances" without elaborating on what those circumstances might be.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 6:53
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    This is an English usage site, not a medical site. The addition of "I think this..." doesn't make it fact. I think some people need to stop reading things that aren't really there! Commented May 6, 2016 at 9:18
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    @user3791372 - reading things that aren't really there to make comments is, unfortunately, typical of this site.
    – user66974
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 9:45
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    But people do read these answers, and to be on the safe side there's no harm in actually confirming an impression or better still, not mentioning it in the first place. I actually upvoted the answer after it was edited, so no idea why someone is downvoting this answer and the OP's, which currently has two downvotes, and three upvotes.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 10:02

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