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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 is the physical gesture of placing one's hand across one's face or lowering one's face into one's hand or hands, covering or closing one's eyes. 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, exhaustion, sarcasm, or incredulous disbelief.[3]


The term facepalm (often used on its own in the same manner as an interjection might be) means that the palm of the hand is brought to the face with fingers splayed as if grasping. The word is first attested on Usenet groups as early as 1996, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.[4][5] Images of stockbrokers facepalming have been widely used in the media to convey the dismay associated with poor financial performance,[3][6] and a wide variety of regrettable film,[7] business,[8] and political[9][10] 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".[11] It was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in August 2011.[12]

This gesture is not unique to humans. For example, a group of mandrills at Colchester Zoo adopted a similar gesture to signal their desire to avoid social interaction or be left alone.[13]

Popular culture[edit]

Internet usage[edit]

A pictogram 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. It is often also used to indicate incredulous disbelief that another could make a statement that the reader considers unusually foolish or naive.

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 or between square brackets — *facepalm* or [facepalm] respectively — 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.

In 2016 the facepalm gesture was included in Unicode 9.0 as U+1F926 🤦 FACE PALM emoji.[17][18]

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[edit]

A double facepalm.
  • Double facepalm: Similar to the facepalm but performed with two hands.
  • SMH is another Internet slang term commonly interpreted as "shaking my head", with an associated emoji.
  • Headdesk: Expressing great frustration by striking the forehead against something, usually a desk or a wall.[19] Whereas the "headdesk" gesture is typically done successive times to emphasize the motion, the facepalm gesture is usually a singular act. On some media sites, the headdesk is combined with "facepalm" as the term "facedesk", with relatively the same meaning save for the repetition, which is singular and exaggerated.
  • 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.
  • Eye-rolling: A passive-aggressive form of rejection.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Twenty-first-century Perspectives on Nineteenth-century Art: Essays in Honor of Gabriel P. Weisberg p246 Associated University Presse, 2008
  2. ^ Maxwell, Kerry (4 Jul 2011). "facepalm". BuzzWord. Macmillan Publishers. Retrieved 22 Nov 2011.
  3. ^ a b Taylor, Kimberly Hayes (9 Aug 2011). "Stressed brokers can't keep their hands off their faces. Why?". The Body Odd. MSNBC. Retrieved 12 Sep 2014.
  4. ^ "facepalm, int and n.". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. ^ "facepalm, v.". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  6. ^ Kamer, Foster (5 Aug 2011). "Wall Street's Facepalm Friday: World's Front Pages Inevitably Feature Finance's Great Faces of Agony". The New York Observer. Retrieved 22 Nov 2011.
  7. ^ Vaux, Rob (30 Jun 2011). "Biggest Transformers Face Palm Moments". Mania. Archived from the original on 2011-09-02. Retrieved 22 Nov 2011.
  8. ^ Paczkowski, John (21 Nov 2011). "Double FacePalm: HP Blew Billions on webOS". All Things Digital. Retrieved 22 Nov 2011.
  9. ^ Rawlinson, Linnie (28 Apr 2010). "'Bigotgate' goes viral as UK PM says *facepalm*". UK Election Blog. CNN. Archived from the original on 2012-01-21. Retrieved 22 Nov 2011.
  10. ^ Evans, Jon (30 Jul 2011). "Technology + Politics = Facepalm". TechCrunch. Retrieved 22 Nov 2011.
  11. ^ Malik, Shiv (23 Nov 2011). "Lexicographers cram 'squeezed middle' into word of the year slot". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 Nov 2011.
  12. ^ "Facepalm". Oxford English Dictionary, n.d. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/facepalm
  13. ^ Laidre, M. E. (2011). Brosnan, Sarah Frances (ed.). "Meaningful Gesture in Monkeys? Investigating whether Mandrills Create Social Culture". PLoS ONE. 6 (2): e14610. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0014610. PMC 3032724. PMID 21311591.
  14. ^ Tom Chatfield (28 March 2013). Netymology: From Apps to Zombies: A Linguistic Celebration of the Digital World. Quercus Publishing. p. 58. ISBN 978-1-78087-994-9. Retrieved 1 September 2013.
  15. ^ Rosenberg, Adam. "South Park: The Stick of Truth Censorship Features Epochal Facepalm". Digital Trends. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
  16. ^ “Main/Face Palm - Television Tropes & Idioms.” Accessed January 27, 2014. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FacePalm.
  17. ^ "Face Palm Emoji". Emojipedia. Retrieved 2016-04-20.
  18. ^ "Emoji Candidates". TUS 9.0. unicode.org. 2015. Retrieved 2016-04-26.
  19. ^ "Headdesk". Television Tropes & Idioms. Accessed January 27, 2014.

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Facepalms at Wikimedia Commons