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How would you describe moving your head back in shock?

I.e. if something shocks you, you might move your head away from it, a bit like the gasping cat meme.

A friend has said 'shrink your neck', but I can't find any credible examples of that online.

Reeled or gasped in shock could be used, but I'm hoping to find a way to describe the specific action of moving the head back.

Any thoughts or advice will be much appreciated :)

  • "Whiplash" is something I might try. – Hot Licks Mar 2 at 13:36
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    Google Books has over 44,000 written instances of people who recoiled (in horror). – FumbleFingers Mar 2 at 13:50
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    "They were taken aback" "Helen was aghast when she found the illegal drugs buried in her backyard. " – Mitch Mar 2 at 17:04
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I would say "flinch back" or, as mentioned by FF, "recoil".

  • "she flinched her head back in horror"
  • "she recoiled in fear when she saw his face"
  • If you flinch, you make a small sudden movement, especially when something surprises you or hurts you.
    Murat had looked into the eyes of the firing squad without flinching. [VERB] The sharp surface of the rock caught at her skin, making her flinch. [VERB] (Collins)

  • If something makes you recoil, you move your body quickly away from it because it frightens, offends, or hurts you.
    For a moment I thought he was going to kiss me. I recoiled in horror. [VERB]
    We are attracted by nice smells and recoil from nasty ones. [VERB + from] (Collins)

Examples from the web:

  • He flinched his head back inside the cab.

  • Victoria flinched her head back as if Tracy had severely insulted her or slapped her on the face. "How dare you attempt to tell me how to raise my son!"

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to shrink is a good word: TFD]1 And the idiom shrink back TFD

to draw back; recoil: to shrink from danger.

But, it does not imply just ones head, but rather the whole person.

To use the idiom:

Viewing the crowd, heads (most visible part of the many bodies) were seen shrinking back from the new danger.

In literary use, my sense is this would be acceptable. I do not know of any specific phrases, including those discussed in this question, are specific to the head, especially its motion or reaction to 'shock'.

  • Recoil fits best, I think. – aparente001 Mar 3 at 9:19

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