If you do something that would greatly upset a deceased person, it would cause him to "turn in his grave".

However, what if the person affected is still alive? Is there an equivalent idiom for this?

  • I've certainly heard "If he were dead he'd be spinning in his grave."
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 8, 2016 at 0:27

6 Answers 6


Consider mortify if you can tolerate a colourful word rather than an idiom.

Definition from O-D

  1. Cause (someone) to feel very embarrassed or ashamed [...]

Its etymology is slightly reminiscent of the grave / death reference mentioned by OP, i.e.

Late Middle English (in the senses 'put to death', 'deaden', and 'subdue by self-denial'): from Old French mortifier, from ecclesiastical Latin mortificare 'kill, subdue', from mors,mort- 'death'.

To quote a UK MP in news today:

Mr Duncan Smith told Robert Peston on his ITV politics show: 

“I’ve been around in politics long enough to see plenty of incredibly experienced cabinet ministers and Prime Ministers get stitched up in the course of an interview.

“I’ve talked to her, she’s actually mortified about that, really genuinely mortified. - Independent Newspaper


To "give someone a fit" is defined by oxforddictionaries.com as

Greatly shock or anger someone

For example, one might say

Your father's going to have a fit when he finds out what you did.

Note that hardly anyone actually experiences a seizure upon receiving bad news, unless perhaps they're epileptic already.


If the body is still pumping blood, you might consider to make one's blood boil.

To cause a person to feel angry or very annoyed, especially in situation in which one cannot fully display that feeling to others.

(Source: Wiktionary)

I'm not sure if this qualifies as completely equivalent, but both idioms convey a stirring yet stationary bodily energy.


The idiom "his ears must be ringing" expresses an imaginary effect on the referenced person, in this case a living one, although not necessarily caused by talking about him in a way that he would perceive negatively.


If you do something that would greatly upset a (living) person, it would possibly cause them to "squirm with _________(feeling)" where feeling can be one of anger, discomfort, embarrassment, disappointment and so on. Also, squirming nicely complements the action part of turning in one's grave.


squirm with something
to fidget or move around restlessly, showing irritation of some type.

The children squirmed with impatience, but they kept quiet.
I squirmed with discomfort, hoping that the time on the aircraft would pass rapidly.

McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


Christine Ammer, The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms (1997) offers this entry for "turn in one's grave":

turn in one's grave Also turn over in one's grave. Be very upset. This idiom is used only of a dead person, who in all likelihood would have been upset by developments in question, as in If she knew you'd sold her jewelry, shed turn over in her grave. {Late 1800s}

Since a live person is likely to respond more demonstratively to disappointment, aggravation, or a sense of betrayal than a dead person, the corresponding idiom for a live person would be more dramatic than simply turning over. One option not mentioned by other posters is "flip one's lid." Here is Ammer's entry for that idiom:

flip one's lid Also, flip one's wig; flip out. React very strongly or wildly, as with anger, surprise, or excitement.; also, go crazy. [Examples omitted.] These slangy expressions, with their allusion to losing the top of one's head, date from the 1930s and 1940s.

Ammer seems to be equating "lid" with "top of one's head," but this could be a misunderstanding on her part. According to Harold Wentworth & Stuart Flexner, Dictionary of American Slang, first edition (1960), lid was a slang term for "hat" throughout the 1930s and 1940s (and later):

lid n. 1 A hat. 1931: "You may now reverently lift the lid to Col. Henry Ward Belcher." Bob Brown in Amer[ican] Mercury, Dec. 403/2. 2 A helmet. Some W.W.I use. 3 An unskillful telegrapher. Telegrapher and Army Signal Corps use. See blow the lid off, flip [one's] lid.

Wentworth & Flexner gives this definition for "flip [one's] lid":

flip [one's] lid To show an extreme response; specif. to become violently angry; to lose one's sanity; to burst out laughing. [Historical examples omitted.]

The "become angry" and "go insane" senses of "flip one's lid" are plausible counterparts to "turn over in one's grave"; the "become excited" or "burst out laughing" senses are not.

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