When you cringe, your body language shows you don't like what you see and hear. You close your eyes and grimace. You may even jerk your body away from the offensive sight or sound, like the old picture of you in an "awkward stage" that makes you cringe whenever you see it.

Whether it's a song you hate or someone mentioning an embarrassing moment from the past, you cringe at things that are unpleasant. If you think about the way your body involuntarily flinches or bends in those situations, you won’t be surprised to learn that the word cringe can be traced back to the Old English word cringan, meaning “give way, fall (in battle), become bent.” That’s exactly what your body does when you cringe!

Definitions of cringe

v draw back, as with fear or pain

flinch, funk, quail, recoil, shrink, squinch, wince
retract, shrink back
pull away from a source of disgust or fear
Type of:
move so as to change position, perform a nontranslational motion

v show submission or fear

cower, crawl, creep, fawn, grovel
Type of:
bend, flex
form a curve

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