A faceplant is a fall onto one's face. I hypothesize it was created by skaters, derived from the trick "handplant"; that's slightly bolstered by names.org. Can anyone find better info? Be careful searching if you don't want to see injuries.
According to the OED (free page!!!), it dates back to the 80s:
After gaining the fastest first intermediate time, he hooked an edge and did a ‘face plant’.
Globe & Mail (Toronto), 16 Jan. 1981
Even if you're face-planting all the way down Ruthie's Run, you want people in the chairlift above to say, ‘Who is that guy lying in the snow bleeding? Great suit though.’
Toronto Star, 13 Dec. 1986
It's not clear to me what sport the first one refers to (I can't find the full thing online), but I suspect it may be referring to skiing or snowboarding.
Here's another early example that I found on my own (this is definitely skiing):
OK, but that's not always easy when you're hitting every kind of snow, from fast to face-plant stop.
Christian Science Monitor (Boston, MA), 1982
Unfortunately, the OED entry for "hand plant" is not as good, so I have not been able to find an example of it that predates "face plant". If "hand plant" is earlier, I think that it would make sense as the origin of the expression.
Here are the earliest examples I can find for "hand plant":
Other moves are called basic hand plants, bean plants and egg plants.
"Soaring and diving, they're never skate-bored" The San Diego Union-Tribune - March 6, 1984
"The Cab," got up and performed some of his hand-plant magic in his final run en route to a fourth-place finish.
"Flair in the air shredding the streets on skates bruises some of the game's biggest wheels" The Mercury News (San Jose, CA), September 5, 1985
I was there.
Early 1980s, New England ski slopes.
While Alpine skiing, which is done with ski poles, there is an action that the skier makes with his pole to help him change direction. It's called a "pole-plant". A pole-plant is accomplished by stabbing the ski pole straight down into the snow, or "planting" it.
So when a skier ended up falling face-first into the snow, it was simply a matter of replacing the word "pole" with "face" to describe the event. Usually preceded by the word "nice".
I'm pretty sure the word derives from the verb form of plant, especially these versions:
- a : to put or set in the ground for growth - plant seeds
- b : to set or sow with seeds or plants c : implant
- a : to place in or on the ground
- b : to place firmly or forcibly - planted a hard blow on his chin
When you faceplant, you hit the ground with your face. Often this is part of a spectacular fall. In some contexts, your face will literally dig into the surface as you hit. When skiing, for instance, you will often dig a little ways into the snow when you crash face first. Other times the "planting" is more metaphorical, you just hit so hard that it may seem as if your face could have dug in to the ground.