Turn that frown upside down :(
September 11, 2016 2:16 AM   Subscribe

 
I'd have said forehead but would readily agree it's really a whole face thing. The idea of "Turning a frown upside down" was never at all puzzling to me.
posted by Segundus at 2:33 AM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's a whole face thing. The forehead is an integral part of a frown. Like these I guess... 😡😒

An inverted smile is something else, but I'll be damned if I know what it's called.
posted by knapah at 2:52 AM on September 11, 2016


Oh boy! Quine!
posted by smugly rowan at 2:57 AM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


Turn that frown upside down! That's a smile, not an upside down frown!
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 3:05 AM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


I can only think this in relation to that saying now.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 3:09 AM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Gosh.

Unn ... ark their einy otter wards I'vy bin oozing wrung, withoat relicing? Yoo'd tall mee, write?
posted by the quidnunc kid at 3:11 AM on September 11, 2016 [5 favorites]


Ok.

):
posted by I-Write-Essays at 3:24 AM on September 11, 2016 [10 favorites]


Surely the problem here isn't the language but rather that your mouth turning down at the sides isn't a sign of sadness, it's a symptom of a stroke. The sad face people actually make (99 times out of 100) is a protrusion of the lips in a moue, which also makes it possible to actually turn the sides of your mouth down without having suffered a major neurological event.
posted by howfar at 3:48 AM on September 11, 2016 [9 favorites]


I'd have said both or either, but I'm Australian and we're UK English / US English bilingual.
posted by threecheesetrees at 3:51 AM on September 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


There have been a number of Language Log posts and discussions over the years where people discover startling regional variation in usage involving distinct or even contradictory meanings. That's part of dialectical differences, how language works. It can be fairly easy for a common word or expression to have this sort of regional variation and go unnoticed -- it was only recently I became aware that "first floor" in BrE is what I think of as "second floor". I'd know this (possibly) if I'd been there, but I haven't.

But anyway, it's always super interesting to me to see people report such regional or just idiosyncratic variations and be astonished, even indignant, at unfamiliar usages or connotations.

"Surely the problem here isn't the language but rather that your mouth turning down at the sides isn't a sign of sadness, it's a symptom of a stroke."

This is an example of an invalid universalization. What do you think is happening in this photo? I'd be happy to assume a "major neurological event" as an explanation for this guy but, alas.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:00 AM on September 11, 2016 [13 favorites]


I'm British and so a frown is with the eyebrows/forehead, but the phrase was never confusing to me because I imagined inverting the frowning eyebrows to a more cheerful/friendly expression.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:05 AM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


So you're telling me that if I ask a British 5-year-old to "draw a sad face" he will draw a neutral mouth and some sort of lines indicating a furrowed forehead?
posted by mmoncur at 4:05 AM on September 11, 2016 [6 favorites]


I'm English and a frown is always a downturned mouth. I get that folk often furrow their brow at the same time, but that's not a frown in itself.
posted by Emma May Smith at 4:13 AM on September 11, 2016 [5 favorites]


So you're telling me that if I ask a British 5-year-old to "draw a sad face" he will draw a neutral mouth and some sort of lines indicating a furrowed forehead?

But a "sad face" isn't necessarily a frown. To me a frown always has a bit of disapproval to it, or maybe concentration. A sad face is sad :( Two different things.

(Irish, so I guess British usage is probably more usual)
posted by Fence at 4:37 AM on September 11, 2016 [8 favorites]


So you're telling me that if I ask a British 5-year-old to "draw a sad face" he will draw a neutral mouth and some sort of lines indicating a furrowed forehead?

So do you consider that a frown and a sad face are the same thing?

For me, a frown is a cross face. I don't frown when I'm sad, I frown when I'm annoyed or disturbed. (For reference, I'm over 50 and Irish).
posted by Azara at 4:39 AM on September 11, 2016 [5 favorites]


Furrowed brow? You mean Shaquille O'Neill is frowning in those Gold Bond commercials?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:49 AM on September 11, 2016


Myself and the other Australian in this house just had a WTF moment as neither of us had ever considered that a frown would have anything to do with the mouth or lips. What does "frown of concentration" mean to Americans?

To answer the question above, a sad face is different to a frown. I tell my partner to go and find her glasses because she's frowning, I certainly don't think she's sad at the same time.
posted by deadwax at 4:52 AM on September 11, 2016 [5 favorites]


MIND blown! From the UK here. To my mind, a frown is definitely situated in the eyebrows. You can even frown and smile at the same time (a grimace, I suppose). You frown when you are concentrating, so not necessarily sad! I guess in US English that would be where 'furrowed brow' comes in. But what if you want to say 'she frowned in concentration'? is that still an upside down mouth? Fascinating!!
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 4:52 AM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


Another mind blown! A frown was always the downturned mouth to me, but I have to say the "frowny face" always struck me as an odd shorthand for "sad," because I've never seen a human person do that to their mouth when sad. The lower lip might protrude, but turning the corners of the mouth down is more of an angry jowly move.
posted by duffell at 4:57 AM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


But what if you want to say 'she frowned in concentration'?

I don't know if I've ever heard that expression but "She furrowed her brow in concentration," maybe?
posted by octothorpe at 4:59 AM on September 11, 2016 [6 favorites]


Omg wut. That a frown is with your mouth is so obvious to this American that I was confused about what the question was for like half the post. This may be the weirdest thing I have heard about British people.
posted by dame at 5:00 AM on September 11, 2016 [42 favorites]


I have read books where someone "frowned in concentration" and I just assumed they American-frowned with their mouth. People make weird faces when they concentrate was my take on it.

As regards sad face and frown, I think Americans would say you can be sad without frowning but the classic sadface drawing is, yeah, with a frown.
posted by dame at 5:05 AM on September 11, 2016 [5 favorites]


This may be the weirdest thing I have heard about British people.

_██_
ಠ_ృ
posted by Fizz at 5:09 AM on September 11, 2016 [20 favorites]


I am with dame. As an American, a frown is so clearly and unequivocally a "sad mouth" that I had to read the blog post twice to even understand what was being discussed. I am seeing a British friend today and can't wait to ask him what he considers a frown. Mind blown for sure.
posted by Falconetti at 5:10 AM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is definitely a whole-face thing to me (USA). If the expression doesn't include the furrow, it's not a frown.

I think the word "frown" connotes sadness or anger in the US; other uses are explained with extra words, like "frowned in concentration." Is that different also?
posted by zennie at 5:14 AM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


From Word Origins by John Ayto:
probably the underlying notion of frowning is 'snorting' rather than wrinkling the brows, It comes from the old French Froignier which meant snort as well as frown. It is assumed to have been adopted into French from a Celtic language of Gaul and would therefore have been related to the Welsh ffroen 'nostril'
posted by Lanark at 5:26 AM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm not the only one who is thinking of the "standing vs. sitting" wiping thing that happened here on mefi forever ago right?
posted by Annika Cicada at 5:28 AM on September 11, 2016 [5 favorites]


😕This is a frown.
posted by SyraCarol at 5:33 AM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


I am also with Dame. Do British people not have that pain scale picture where the little face goes from (-: to |-: to )-: ?
posted by artychoke at 5:35 AM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


It had literally never occurred to me that frowning could be non-mouth related.

Smiley face:
:)
Smile:
)

Frowny face:
:(
Frown:
(
posted by eponym at 5:37 AM on September 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm an American and a frown to me is all about the forehead. I had no idea it was any different anywhere. So clearly not just an American v. non-American thing.
posted by tiger tiger at 5:38 AM on September 11, 2016 [4 favorites]


Artychoke, that progression makes perfect sense to me, but it has nothing to do with frowning in my mind.
posted by deadwax at 5:38 AM on September 11, 2016


American, 47, frowning is done with the forehead. What do the mouth people think "frown lines" are?
posted by magicbus at 5:48 AM on September 11, 2016 [13 favorites]


:( would be a sad face to me, frown would be more like >:(

Previously I've genuinely never heard of anyone considering a frown to be based around the mouth, which is why it mildly freaked me out when I read about it on Twitter a couple of days ago. Some younger British people seem to consider it being about a downturned mouth, so it's certainly not a clean UK/US split.
posted by malevolent at 5:50 AM on September 11, 2016 [4 favorites]


What do you think is happening in this photo?

I think he's making precisely the moue of disapproval that I described in the paragraph you quoted.
posted by howfar at 5:50 AM on September 11, 2016


MIND blown! From the UK here. To my mind, a frown is definitely not situated in the eyebrows.

So clearly not just an American v. non-American thing }:-)
posted by doiheartwentyone at 5:52 AM on September 11, 2016


This may be the weirdest thing I have heard about British people.

And lots of Americans too. That's the interesting thing, here, that there has been a shift in some varieties of English, away from "frown is a brow expression" towards "frown is a mouth expression" without anyone noticing it. It's a brilliant example of indeterminacy of reference, and the fundamental difficulties with meaning and reference that underlie the entire project of human knowledge.
posted by howfar at 5:57 AM on September 11, 2016 [11 favorites]


I am familiar with the phrase 'a furrowed brow' and what that denotes but a frown is something I have always associated with the lips and mouth.

upturned = smile :)
dowturned = frown :(

Canadian, 35.
posted by Fizz at 5:59 AM on September 11, 2016


> What do the mouth people think "frown lines" are?

As a mouth person, I always assumed frown lines were the wrinkles that developed at the corners of a mouth going down towards the chin.
posted by enjoymoreradio at 6:03 AM on September 11, 2016 [18 favorites]


It all depends what you mean by 'frown.'
posted by carter at 6:14 AM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


A frown is mouth related (though like any true facial expression, it affects more than just your mouth) and frowning is when you make that mouth shape. But you can frown your brows or frown in concentration, both of which are forehead.
posted by jeather at 6:18 AM on September 11, 2016


I wonder if it depends on whether you were taught the meaning of the word using an emoji-like 'happy/sad' face, or someone actually miming the expression.

I would call the emoji-thing a 'sad face'. The word 'frown' wouldn't occur to me, but I don't think I'd really register someone calling it a frown as problematic.

The reality of it, of course, is that there isn't really an inverted-smile expression involving the mouth - mouth expressions are complex and quite subtle. The whole face in involved in pretty much any expression. While you may mentally picture a frown as being primarily a thing of the mouth, it would look pretty weird if that were actually the case.
posted by pipeski at 6:21 AM on September 11, 2016


UK here. Frowning is definitely a forehead thing - I don't think it has much to do with the mouth at all, though you wouldn't frown and have a say-cheese smile on your face. I don't associate frowning with a downturned mouth at all. If someone frowns, they're either displeased or concentrating.
posted by Rissa at 6:24 AM on September 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


it was only recently I became aware that "first floor" in BrE is what I think of as "second floor". I'd know this (possibly) if I'd been there, but I haven't.

We recently moved into a building that dates back to when Canada leaned more towards the British side of the English divide than it does now. So I have to explain to people taking the stairs that I'm on the second floor, but if you take the old elevator I'm on 1.
posted by thecjm at 6:25 AM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


The feeling that's indicated by the downturned mouth-corners depends on what the eyebrows are doing. If they're upturned in the center

/ \
. .
__

then you're sad. If they're downturned in the center

\ /
. .
__

then you're mad.

I would say that the mad face is a frown, and that the sad face is not. I'm not sure what I would call the sad face, apart from just sad.

This is obviously subjective (and more controversial than I'd realized), and anybody who doesn't mind being wrong is of course free to disagree with me.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 6:27 AM on September 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


(The mouth-corners in my illustrations aren't actually turned down; you have to pretend. We apologize for the inconvenience.)
posted by Sing Or Swim at 6:31 AM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Nthing "frown" as being about the brow. A furrowed brow with a neutral mouth is still a frown, whereas a down turned mouth with a neutral brow with a down turned mouth is not. I would probably call the latter a scowl.

As for emoticons and emoji, I have always thought of them as a "smiley face" and a "sad face."

(Northeastern seaboard, USA, 40s.)
posted by slkinsey at 6:33 AM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


The idea of "Turning a frown upside down" was never at all puzzling to me.

This sounds like bollocks, in fact. See: Judge Dredd
posted by Artw at 6:34 AM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


To the forehead group: Do you then still consider a frown to be the opposite of a smile?
posted by solarion at 6:45 AM on September 11, 2016


Omg whaaaat?

Team Frown is a Mouth Expression, Canadian-American, 41.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:58 AM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


An inverted smile is something else, but I'll be damned if I know what it's called.

My wife refers to this expression of hers as "frog face."
posted by Beardman at 7:01 AM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


To my mind a proper frown (as in you-think-that's-funny?) looks like this:

>:-|

Anger (Grrrrrh!):

>:-(

Surprise (WTF?):

<:-|

Amusement (SERIOUSLY?):

<:-)
posted by kairab at 7:05 AM on September 11, 2016


Huh. American here, and I had always assumed an actual frown was a full-face expression, though primarily focused around the eyes, but that for the purposes of simplified artistic depiction (comic books and, later, emoji) it was represented by a downturned mouth. Like smoke coming out of ears or face turning green when feeling nauseous.
posted by Bugbread at 7:07 AM on September 11, 2016 [7 favorites]


New Yorker, 52, frown is an eyebrow thing expressing disapproval. Which is, I think, more normal to New Yorkers than expressing sadness.
posted by musofire at 7:13 AM on September 11, 2016 [4 favorites]


> A furrowed brow with a neutral mouth is still a frown, whereas a down turned mouth with a neutral brow with a down turned mouth is not. I would probably call the latter a scowl.

Whereas for me, a scowl is entirely in the eyes.
posted by enjoymoreradio at 7:17 AM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


So that dude in drafting class who was always wondering if what he saw as blue was the same color for everybody else might have had a point.

Frowns and scowls are both mouth movements to me.
posted by Mooski at 7:21 AM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


Beardman, "frog face" is great. I've been reading this discussion with interest, since both my kids and I (but not their dad) apparently have the musculature to make an enormous downturned scowl/frown mouth form. We have a lot of fun with it when we make exaggerated faces of sadness or disapproval, and make a lot of family selfies with identical ridiculous frowns. It's a thing. I recently found a pic of an Asian brush painting of a frog with very much the same kind of huge, swooping pout and texted it to my kids saying, "I found a frog with the family frown!"
posted by Sublimity at 7:21 AM on September 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


For me (American), "frown" can mean either "expression of sadness" (with emphasis on the mouth), or "expression of mild, pensive frustration" (with more of a furrowed-brow / general facial connotation).

I rely on context to indicate which meaning isintended. Absent context, though, the "sad mouth" meaning is the one I'd assume.

When I do encounter the "pensively frustrated" meaning, it's something I sort of half-consciously notice - it has a vaguely literary feel, since I only see it in relatively thoughtful / formal writing, and never in more casual text or speech.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 7:23 AM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


Seriously, this has blown my mind. 39, American, frown has always meant a mouth thing to me. I had no idea a different definition or usage even existed.
posted by bologna on wry at 7:36 AM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Whenever the internet fulfills its promise of "connecting us with our commonalities and differences" I never cease to be amazed by how simultaneously bizarre and banal it always is :/
posted by sexyrobot at 7:58 AM on September 11, 2016 [9 favorites]


Google Image Searches:

"face sadness sad sorrow" (line drawings)
"clown mime face sad sadness sorrow" (photos, faces)

... just to get an idea of frequency of downward curving mouths.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:06 AM on September 11, 2016


My google image search results for "frown lines" are very heavily weighted towards the furrows between the eyebrows, but there are a few mouth pictures. I wonder if dermatologists/aestheticians who do Botox injections are aware of this divide, due to people freaking out when they start working on entirely different areas of the face than they're expecting.
posted by magicbus at 8:06 AM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


American here, 45 YO. I always thought of a frown as more of displeasure, disgust as in "frown(ed) upon"

"Turn that frown upside down" always occurred to me as being self-consciously cheesy, like "Case of the Mondays!", and usually used to get a laugh... So I don't think of frowning as sad.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 8:07 AM on September 11, 2016


I've finally paid my $5 after years of lurking here due to my addiction to the US Election threads but this is the first thing that's prompted me to comment.

As a mid-30s Brit with an American wife you can count us in the 'minds-blown' camp. We're normally pretty good on the things about our common language that divide us but this is a new one for us.

For the record, frown is all in the forehead for me - it doesn't indicate sadness, more dissatisfaction and/or puzzlement.
posted by toamouse at 8:43 AM on September 11, 2016 [4 favorites]


I'm American. It's actually been confusing to me in a vague sort of way that some people talk about the frown being the opposite of a smile. To me, people frown with their eyebrows and forehead, and a frown is a sign of annoyance, confusion, displeasure, or disgust. You can also frown in concentration or in surprise, if you get really weird unpleasant news out of nowhere. None of those emotions will make you pull a sad face with the corners of your mouth going down.
posted by colfax at 9:02 AM on September 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm American and a frown to me is eyebrows and forehead.

When do I get my official tea secrets manual.
posted by winna at 9:13 AM on September 11, 2016 [5 favorites]


Wait, none of you frown with your pancreas??
posted by dfan at 9:32 AM on September 11, 2016 [12 favorites]


someone should tell Rebecca Sugar that her british "Mr Frowny" character may need some calibration
posted by eustatic at 9:35 AM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


So have any of the non-mouth definition folks ever heard of this old adage and, if so, did it ever seem strange to them?
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 9:42 AM on September 11, 2016


Am I the only one eager to hear Frowner's opinion on this topic?

Australian here. A frown has always been, for me, a full-face expression encompassing both mouth and forehead - but primarily in the mouth, which allows for the expansion to 'a worried frown'.
posted by not the fingers, not the fingers at 9:47 AM on September 11, 2016 [8 favorites]


It's all about the spleen, dfan.
posted by meinvt at 9:51 AM on September 11, 2016


Turn that pout inside-out :8
posted by little onion at 9:52 AM on September 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


Californian, 50s, a frown is an upside-down smile. Yes, a frown is a sad face. "Turn that frown upside down!" I asked my son what that would mean for people for whom the frown is above the eyes and he said that maybe they are turning the whole face upside down, which he thought would look strange (your nose would be upside down).

"frown of concentration" I've never seen this expression. But, then again, maybe I have and just ignored it because it didn't make sense to me.
posted by eye of newt at 10:01 AM on September 11, 2016


during my days when OTs tried to teach my autistic brain feeling, they told me that frowns come from the mouth
posted by PinkMoose at 10:04 AM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


Coincidentally, I was reading recently that, while everyone recognizes that eyes have a role in smiling, Japanese people recognize smiles as predominantly something done with the eyes rather than mouth; this is why their emoticons for happy and sad (^_^ and ;_; respectively) have the same mouth and differ only in eyes.
posted by splitpeasoup at 10:16 AM on September 11, 2016 [10 favorites]


So have any of the non-mouth definition folks ever heard of this old adage and, if so, did it ever seem strange to them?

Nope. It made instinctual sense that frowning would use more muscles, since the forehead's gotten involved in a way it isn't involved with smiling.

(American who grew up in Northern California reading lots of English novels, fwiw.)
posted by Lexica at 10:18 AM on September 11, 2016


German who learned English in school, lived briefly in England and for a long time since in California: member of team forehead.

Also, howfar, I'm fairly certain I'm not having a stroke right now but I seem to be able to move the corners of my mouth down without involving my lips. From what I can feel with the tips of my fingers I'm pulling them down with muscles right below the corners of my mouth. While lips stay relaxed and don't move or protrude. Does that make me an alien freak?
posted by Hairy Lobster at 10:53 AM on September 11, 2016


Australian.

Eyebrows.
posted by flabdablet at 10:55 AM on September 11, 2016


Grew up in New Orleans in the seventies. A frown is a sad mouth.
posted by egypturnash at 11:03 AM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


I (Virginian with heavy Midwestern and Mid-Atlantic influences) inherited my resting Norwegian Battleaxe face from my Scandinavian ancestors - my mouth's default position is to turn downwards, and when you've wronged me, my frown can become delightfully fierce. The rest of my face can be neutral (eyebrows relaxed, skin not bright red in anger, nose not-flaring, blood of those who have wronged me not dripping down my face, no air of disappointment lurking about to passive-aggressively make my minions fear they have disappointed me), but people throughout my life have urged me to not frown simply on the basis of my resting Battleaxe face.

When I lived in England and Australia for a year and half when I was 12/3, far far far far fewer people remarked on my "frown." Apparently, I've been chalking up to courtesy for years what could have been credited to linguistic difference!
posted by julen at 11:04 AM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


Canadian, 52, mouth, mind blown.
posted by parki at 11:26 AM on September 11, 2016


Canadian. Mouth. Sad.

Concentration, disapproval = "furrowed brow"

Also, British people smile wrong. (WRONG, I SAY!) They show all their teeth, upper and lower. It is weird. I can't even do that with my mouth unless I consciously force it, and it looks nothing like a smile.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:29 AM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


Huh. American here, and I had always assumed an actual frown was a full-face expression, though primarily focused around the eyes, but that for the purposes of simplified artistic depiction (comic books and, later, emoji) it was represented by a downturned mouth.

I was going to say this also. The symmetry of the inverted smile is intuitively understood but I don't think most people reaaally make that face when they're displeased? But I would say "furrowed brow" and not "frown" if I was describing a look of concentration - even if both faces actually involve a furrowed brow.
posted by atoxyl at 11:30 AM on September 11, 2016


So here is a theory: all the British derived people I have asked have trouble making their mouths go down. All us Mediterranean and further south types have very mobile mouths. That is maybe the British frown with their forehead because northerners have deficient tiny lips.
posted by dame at 12:03 PM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


I remember being confused about this as a kid, since human faces don't really look like the abstract frowny-face character that is used to illustrate a frown. The downturned mouth, especially, seemed confusing, since it's hard to actually get your mouth to do what is happening in the archetypal illustration of a frown. Actual upset or sad faces don't look like that at all.

I also remember playing a weird game with my grade school bestie called "Am I Smiling?" where we would hide the bottom of our faces with a book or something and then try to make a confusing expression with our upper face, and the other person would have to guess whether we were smiling under all that confusing eyebrow action. Nine year old girls are very easily entertained.
posted by Sara C. at 12:05 PM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


What's funny to me (as an always-thought-frown-was-a-mouth-thing American) is that I suddenly realize how weird and tied up with iconography the frowning-mouth idea is. I know of literally zero adults who would actually form their mouth into an upward-curving line when sad, particularly in the suddenly-mildly-sad-or-confused-as-a-conversational-reaction way that "frown" usually seems to indicate. Children, when weeping quite piteously, might make that shape with their mouth, but even for their plastic faces it seems relatively rare. The idea of a sad face or frown being an upward-curving line seems almost entirely to be a result of the common iconography of the smiley face, the simplistic "happy/sad" binary we use when describing feelings, and the ease of just flipping the mouth upside down to convey the "opposite" emotion. Maybe you could say a mouth with downturned corners communicates displeasure through exaggeration, as though an untoward comment made us screw up our faces as though we were about to have a tantrum, but it seems more likely that this was just an easy way to represent what we tend to see as a simple state of being. It would be interesting to think about whether Britishers have been freer of such simplistic conceptions as a result of their more directly descriptive idea of the word "frown" - or whether the presumably greater multiplicity of British ideas of displeasure, sadness, unhappiness, etc, hides other cultural generalizations.
posted by koeselitz at 12:33 PM on September 11, 2016


American here. While I do have the "frown = inverted smile" association, I also readily picture a contraction of the forehead and narrowing of the eyes when I read a phrase like "frown of concentration". Or glaring eyes for a "frown of anger".

It doesn't seem earth-shaking to me that a single word describes a range of expressions and emotions; "smile" does, too! For example, a "shy smile", a "big smile", and a "toothy smile" are all different, and an unqualified "smile" might be any of them depending on context. You can smile with your mouth (and cheeks) or with your eyes, or both. You can frown with your eyes while you smile with your mouth (e.g. when feigning pleasure), or vice versa (feigning displeasure). We don't have separate words for all these expressions, so words like "frown" have to do multiple duty.

If this leads to occasional miscommunication, well, so can the expressions themselves. People often can't read my friendly smile since I don't show teeth. And my sad face, in the absence of anger, is almost totally blank.
posted by aws17576 at 12:34 PM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm currently reading Darwin's book, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, and I would like to point out that Darwin agrees with me! Or maybe, more accurately, I agree with him.

The act of frowning—Reflection with an effort, or with the perception of something difficult or disagreeable

THE corrugators, by their contraction, lower the eyebrows and bring them together, producing vertical furrows on the forehead—that is, a frown. Sir C. Bell, who erroneously thought that the corrugator was peculiar to man, ranks it as "the most remarkable muscle of the human face. It knits the eyebrows with an energetic effort, which unaccountably, but irresistibly, conveys the idea of mind."....A man may be absorbed in the deepest thought, and his brow will remain smooth until he encounters some obstacle in his train of reasoning, or is interrupted by some disturbance, and then a frown passes like a shadow over his brow. A half-starved man may think intently how to obtain food, but he probably will not frown unless he encounters either in thought or action some difficulty, or finds the food when obtained nauseous....Dr. Piderit, 3, who has published remarks to the same effect, adds that stammerers generally frown in speaking, and that a man in doing even so trifling a thing as pulling on a boot, frowns if he finds it too tight....

From these considerations, we may conclude that frowning is not the expression of simple reflection, however profound, or of attention, however close, but of something difficult or displeasing encountered in a train of thought or in action.


Chapter IX, pg 222
posted by colfax at 12:47 PM on September 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


The reason British judge a frown from the forehead is because the mouth is obscured by the pint glass.
posted by srboisvert at 1:05 PM on September 11, 2016 [4 favorites]


USian, forties, frown is the furrowed brow of displeasure and the :( turned up first in emoji for me.

My Southern relatives smile in a way that shows lots of teeth that my Yankee mother and I physically can't do. Family photos are unintentionally hilarious, like American Gothic welded onto American Bandstand.
posted by clew at 1:22 PM on September 11, 2016


OTOH, :( and :) are useful for remembering how the sign in the second derivative works.
posted by clew at 1:23 PM on September 11, 2016


Wow... for this 48 year old, west coast Canadian a frown = downturned mouth. I've never heard of it referring to the forehead before this post and had no idea others thought of it that way. I'm still in shock.
posted by acroyear at 1:25 PM on September 11, 2016


I always think of a frown as the face Jack Klugman on Quincy made when he discovered something especially distasteful.
posted by jonmc at 1:25 PM on September 11, 2016 [5 favorites]


Wow. This has just clarified soooo many misunderstandings between myself (American) and my partner (Australian). Better than couples therapy!
posted by naturesgreatestmiracle at 2:12 PM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


32. American.

After reading this thread, "frown" has ceased to mean anything at all, and instead just sounds super weird.
posted by ocherdraco at 3:31 PM on September 11, 2016 [6 favorites]


Wow... for this 48 year old, west coast Canadian a frown = downturned mouth. I've never heard of it referring to the forehead before this post and had no idea others thought of it that way. I'm still in shock.

Oh yeah? I’m just up the coast from you and near your age (although Alaskan with all my family multi-generationally from the western U.S.) and a frown must involve the brows.
posted by D.C. at 3:38 PM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Man, I want to quiz everyone in this thread, because I'd expect that when presented with a set of emoji faces with no eyebrows or forehead texture, (nearly?) everyone would be able to answer the question "which of these faces is frowning?" and also that (nearly?) everyone understands that frowning is not naturally accomplished by somehow forcing the edges of your mouth downward without changing any other aspect of your face. And if those things are both true, then this strikes me as just another "what is the definition of a sandwich?" discussion -- lots of people trying to force a level of precision on a word that simply doesn't carry it.
posted by lore at 4:38 PM on September 11, 2016 [4 favorites]


Frown has always meant the eyebrow position to me, along with the idea of it representing generally displeased emotions, but I gathered from "turn that frown upside down" that it was also used to describe the shape of a downturned mouth (with much less attached emotional context), and I assumed that was a recently invented convenience thing because we don't have a common word to describe that shape, despite the fact that it's often drawn. I learnt most of my words from reading though, and frown as an eyebrow thing seems to be the written description.
posted by lucidium at 5:19 PM on September 11, 2016


British people... show all their teeth.

This is 180° from my experience. Americans are so toothy that they look like they're caught in some horrible rictus of pain.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 5:35 PM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


TV viewers in the 80s in the U.S. were explicitly taught (or at least had reinforced) that a frown is a mouth action by the end of every Lionel Kiddie City toystore ad.

I'm having trouble correlating dates, but it looks like these ads might not have started airing until after Kiddie City filed for bankruptcy in 1982, after which it only had 55 stores nationally (according to wikipedia).

And so I wonder if whether one happened to live in a TV market encompassing at least one post-bankruptcy Kiddie City might be predictive of one's mouth vs brow assumptions?
posted by nobody at 5:55 PM on September 11, 2016


}:-(
posted by unliteral at 6:03 PM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Frown is brows. I'm American. Like many people, I had no idea anyone ever thought otherwise. Downturned mouth means "sad" to me; a frown is what you do when you're annoyed or concentrating.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:06 PM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


Oscar the Grouch was probably my formative idea of a frown, now that I think about it.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:08 PM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Frown is in the brows/forehead (mid-50s, raised in Boston). Evidence that :( is a sad face include Emmet Kelly the expression "down at the mouth" to mean dejected or...

Crestfallen. Uh-oh. Does that compound word support sadness being exhibited in the forehead?
posted by carmicha at 6:15 PM on September 11, 2016


... maybe the British frown with their forehead because northerners have deficient tiny lips.

Australian of British ancestry. Can confirm my forehead is muscular and supple, whereas my face-hole is slack and without definition.
posted by um at 7:31 PM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


}:-(
"Turn that frown upside down!"
)-:{
posted by eye of newt at 8:29 PM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Fellow Yanks, you are skipping over the awful significance of this. I'm now compelled to reread every UK English book I've ever read. This is worse than that time I belatedly realized what English "meant to" meant. Frown!
posted by xigxag at 12:56 AM on September 12, 2016


$20, same as in frown
posted by asok at 1:44 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


But a frown is all about annoyance / frustration / anger etc and NOTHING to do with sadness so why on earth would it be downward lips?! What is WRONG with you mad people?!

(32 Australian here)

:( is SADFACE. Not frowny face. >:-/ is frowny face. Sheeeeesh.
posted by jonathanstrange at 2:27 AM on September 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


Man, I want to quiz everyone in this thread, because I'd expect that when presented with a set of emoji faces with no eyebrows or forehead texture, (nearly?) everyone would be able to answer the question "which of these faces is frowning?"

In that scenario, if the options were:

: ) or : ( or : |

I'm pretty sure I'd tell you that the question didn't make sense. If pressed, I would choose the last one as the best approximation.
posted by colfax at 2:38 AM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


British here. Not only is the frown a forehead thing but it's _specifically and only_ a forehead microgesture thing. It's not some kind of general facial expression that includes forehead wrinkling. Asking whether :-( is frowning makes about as much sense to me as asking which of these :-) :-( :-| is sticking up its middle finger.

:-( is an iconic sad face, but I can't physically make that expression with my face and if I did, I'm not sure people would recognise it as being sad. The only real life expression I know of with turned down mouth is "disgust".
posted by emilyw at 2:43 AM on September 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


I was a British 5 year old once, and for me (and my fellow skoolkids), a sad face was this :( turned 90 degrees.
posted by plep at 3:25 AM on September 12, 2016


...anybody who doesn't mind being wrong is of course free to disagree with me.

Before reading this, I didn't even know I had a personal motto.

And if those things are both true, then this strikes me as just another "what is the definition of a sandwich?" discussion...

An Alsatian in-law of mine was thrilled to discover that despite not yet having been to Alsace, I was familiar with and liked flammekueche. His delight turned to dismay when another family member asked what it was, and I described it as "Alsatian pizza." Following a vigorous sandwich-definition-like discussion, he said he'd be making pizza according to my definition the next night. He made tacos.
posted by solotoro at 3:39 AM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


Oh, sorry, to contribute to the main line of discussion: southern-US raised, late 30s, and I associate the word "frown" with the mouth while recognizing that the down-turned lips and closed mouth are not typically what a sad face looks like (though I have certainly seen kids use it to make sure everyone knows they are sad).
posted by solotoro at 3:41 AM on September 12, 2016


But solotoro: a frown has literally nothing to do with sadness. You don't frown when you are sad. You frown when angry or annoyed or displeased.
posted by jonathanstrange at 3:57 AM on September 12, 2016


Wow, it is too early to have spent this much time with the front facing camera.

For those that think that human mouths don't really make such an exaggerated downturn, try pulling an Obama Not Bad face.
posted by that's how you get ants at 4:13 AM on September 12, 2016


jonathanstrange: "But solotoro: a frown has literally nothing to do with sadness. You don't frown when you are sad. You frown when angry or annoyed or displeased."

American here and I can't even wrap my head around the idea that frowning has nothing to do with sadness.
posted by octothorpe at 5:25 AM on September 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


octothorpe: "American here and I can't even wrap my head around the idea that frowning has nothing to do with sadness."

American here and...frowning is what people do when they're annoyed or worried or disapproving or slightly angry. Sometimes they do it when they're sad, but that's an outlier. I mean, check out the results of this image search. There are a few sad faces in there, sure, but the vast majority are slightly pissed off people.
posted by Bugbread at 6:58 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


I mainly frown when I'm confused or puzzled by new data and trying to work out how it fits in with what I already think I know. So basically about 8 times a day, whoever I'm talking to at work thinks I'm furious about that they've just told me.
posted by howfar at 7:22 AM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


Has no one inquired with Mrs. Brown?
posted by Kabanos at 2:20 PM on September 12, 2016


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