The following sentence I've been reading in my book. A lady told her servant a fearful thing and the author says:

The man pulled the few hairs on his upper lip.

I've found the meaning here.

But the question is have you heard this before? I didn't. Have you used it before? I didn't. The answer isn't satisfactory, so i'm hoping now to get a better answer.



I have heard this before but cannot find a reference for it. It is a very old-fashioned expression so it is weird that in the definition you found such a term as 'freaked out'.

Maybe I don't know what freaking out is, but the meaning "pulling hairs on his upper lip" conveys to me is of the gardener made very thoughtful and perhaps worried and, as a kind of nervous gesture, pulling at those hairs. A similar expression is 'tugged at his moustache/mustache' which Google ngrams tells me was much more popular in books in the early 20th century than it is now.

  • Yeah....that was helpful enough... Yeah I also got no any reference...Freaking out I also felt kinda odd. Thanks – Selena Feb 3 '18 at 11:24
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    Pulling at your moustache can also be used to indicate mental agitation (‘freaking out’). For a very popular instance, consider Vernon Dursley going bananas about dozens of magic letters shooting down his chimney and madly deciding to flee the house at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: “‘That does it,’ said Uncle Vernon, trying to speak calmly but pulling great tufts out of his moustache at the same time.” He is most definitely freaking out, and the moustache-pulling shows that quite beautifully (particularly because he actually pulls, rather than tugs). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 3 '18 at 11:51

The link you provided did not load properly and confused me.

Was this from fiction? If so, I would not look for a special meaning of an expression, I would assume the author has shown a gesture by a character, so readers infer their emotion rather than stating "He felt nervous".

Many modern authors employ a style called 'Show, don't tell'. That would be my guess - assuming it is fiction.

  • Yes, it is a fiction. – Selena Feb 3 '18 at 11:36
  • I would then assume a hand-over-mouth gesture was intended to make you feel the character's reluctance to say something. As a wannabe author of fiction, I call that 'Show, don't tell'. – Ross Murray Feb 3 '18 at 11:44
  • Oh! Nice...I'd Love to accept this as the best answer. – Selena Feb 3 '18 at 11:47
  • @Selena I cannot guess an author's mind, but the literal meaning works fine for me if they had wanted readers to feel rather than overthink. – Ross Murray Feb 3 '18 at 12:49

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