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Facepalm

The new word facepalm, which refers to the gesture of putting one’s hand over one’s face, has a few uses. It’s often an interjection expressing exasperation, especially in response to something confounding in its stupidity or hopelessness. It also works as a noun—e.g., I did a facepalm—and as a verb—e.g., I facepalmed.

The word is only a few years old, and it has caught on strongly. The earliest examples uncovered through Google’s search tools are from the early 2000s. It has mostly appeared in social networking and on forums and blogs focusing on internet culture, but it has recently begun to appear more broadly.

We are unable to trace facepalm to a single origin, but we welcome your ideas. The word is associated with the widely shared image of Star Trek‘s Jean-Luc Picard facepalming, but the word itself appears to predate that meme.


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Facepalm is usually one word, though its wider use has given rise to the two-word form, face palm, and the hyphenated face-palm.

Examples

Bill Gates keynotes are notorious for their celebs and David Brent-esque facepalm moments. [Shiny Shiny (2007)]

While those that feel brands have no place on Twitter and the like might facepalm over this news, the bottom line is that direct marketing on the Web (think “free iPod” ads) is just as huge as it is offline. [Mashable (2008)]

More facepalm-worthy tweets can be found south of the border, like Michigan congressman, Pete Hoekstra, revealing that he was in Iraq, despite it being a secret trip. [Now Toronto (2009)]

When I think back to what I was like in high school, it’s hard for me not to cringe and facepalm. [Geek Girls Unite, Leslie Simon (2011)]

Then it dawned on me: Johnson’s “situation” was his holdout. And I facepalmed harder than I’ve ever facepalmed before. [Midwest Sports Fans (2011)]

Today it’s facepalm time, as China says it’s not going to send its finance minister or central bank governor to the IMFannual meetings in Tokyo. [Financial Times (2012)]

One location that may not leap out at you—but is kind of facepalm obvious when you think about it—is your local library. [Gadchick’s Guide to a Geeky Wedding (2012)]

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Comments

  1. I would guess that it originated in text-only social media (BBS, IRC, etc.) on the early years of the internet, as a way of conveying emotion. It probably started as a short phrase that eventually got reduced to its minimum, still-meaningful length.

    IRC’s /me command, and the ability to create custom commands probably helped.

  2. also synonymous is “headdesk” as in banging your head against your desk in frustration, etc.

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