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Caïn by Henri Vidal, Tuileries Garden, Paris, 1896. Cain is depicted after killing his brother hiding his face in his hand[1]

A facepalm (sometimes also face-palm or face palm) is the physical gesture of placing one's hand flat across one's face or lowering one's face into one's hand or hands. The gesture is often exaggerated by giving the motion more force and making a slapping noise when the hand comes in contact with the face. The gesture is found in many cultures as a display of frustration, disappointment, exasperation, embarrassment, horror,[2] shock, surprise, or sarcasm.[3]


The Facepalm gesture is common in expressing frustration

According to Macmillan Dictionary, the word "facepalm" first appeared around 2006,[2] though another source has an earliest citation of 2001.[4] The gesture itself is not of recent origin and, although common, is not culturally universal.[3] Images of stockbrokers facepalming have also been widely used in the media to convey the dismay associated with poor financial performance,[3][5] and a wide variety of regrettable film,[6] business,[7] and political[8][9] decisions have been described as facepalms or "facepalm moments". According to Oxford University Press lexicographer Susie Dent, this versatility is one of the reasons that the word has been linguistically "successful".[10] This word was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in August 2011.[11]

This gesture is not unique to humans. A group of mandrills at the Colchester Zoo has adopted a similar gesture to signal the desire to avoid social interaction or to be left alone.[12]

Popular culture

Internet usage

An emoji is sometimes used to denote facepalm in online contexts

Facepalm's meaning online is the same as the physical gesture's meaning in real life, it expresses frustration, disappointment, embarrassment, shock, surprise or sarcasm. Its online use is to portray emotions and feelings that otherwise may not be easily expressed through text alone. Facepalm is understood online because of its common usage in the real world. The facepalm gesture is a popular internet meme to show a user's frustration or disappointment in an article, comment, or post from another user.

The gesture can be visually represented by a picture of a person doing the gesture, or it can be shown through a recreation of someone doing the gesture using symbols, such as periods, parentheses, or brackets, to form an outline of a person doing the physical gesture. The symbol representation of facepalm can be made in many different sizes for different purposes, such as a comment or a text message. Another visual use of facepalm is a facepalm emoji or emoticon that can be found on many websites such as Skype. These emoji are used in a similar sense to other internet uses of facepalm.

Video of a Facepalm

Online use of the gesture is not limited to a visual representations, often just the word, facepalm, is used to show someone's disapproval or embarrassment. The word is also often surrounded in asterisks, *facepalm*, to separate the gesture from other words in a post. Since its inception, facepalm has gained widespread popularity as a meme or comment image to portray a user's frustration or disappointment of a certain topic. Many sites such as Reddit use this image frequently and in many different ways, often to finish a story or joke that has been deemed dumb or had an obvious punchline.

The keyboard-generated emoticon for facepalm is often shown as '(-_Q)' or 'Q-/' with the Q portraying the hand being placed on the face, as 'm-/' the m portraying fingers and the / a mouth in a frustrated expression, or as 'm('.

Similar gestures

A Double-Facepalm.
  • Double-Facepalm: Similar to the facepalm but performed with two hands.
  • SMH: Another Internet slang word with ties to the disappointed Jean-Luc Picard photo. This acronym is commonly interpreted as shaking/smacking my head.
  • Headdesk: Expressing great frustration by striking the forehead against something, usually a desk or a wall.[16] Whereas the "headdesk" gesture is typically done successive times to emphasize the motion, the facepalm gesture is usually a singular act.
  • Headslapper: A mistake of obvious or shocking stupidity, prompting an expression of astonishment and exasperation performed by striking the forehead with a palm, often producing a loud slapping sound.
A head-slap

See also


  1. ^ p246Twenty-first-century Perspectives on Nineteenth-century Art: Essays in Honor of Gabriel P. Weisberg Associated University Presse, 2008
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ a b c
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Facepalm". Oxford English Dictionary, n.d.
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ “Main/Face Palm - Television Tropes & Idioms.” Accessed January 27, 2014.
  16. ^ “Main/Headdesk - Television Tropes & Idioms.” Accessed January 27, 2014.
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