Down in the Mouth – Idiom, Origin & Meaning

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Down in the mouth is an idiom, a phrase used figuratively to provide an audience with a descriptive connection with the message the author is trying to express. It can be a confusing grammatical practice for anyone unfamiliar with the phrase’s literal and figurative uses. However, contextual clues can often aid in comprehension.

To be down in the mouth means to be unhappy and is related to the downturn of the lips when a person expresses disappointing or sad behavior. Learn about this idiom, its origins, and how to use it in a sentence in the article below.

Understanding Down in the Mouth Idiom Meaning

Down in the Mouth – Idiom Origin Meaning

To be down in the mouth describes the state of feeling sad, depressed, discouraged or glum. It is a way to suggest the downturn of the mouth in an unhappy situation and an analogy to express the emotions conveyed by such a facial expression.

The phrase is occasionally rendered as down at the mouth.

For example:

  • Sarah was disappointed in the outcome of the exam and, as a result, felt a bit down in the mouth for the rest of the week.
  • Dan decided to get to the bottom of why his son looked so down in the mouth and discovered he had been disciplined in class for talking too much.
  • There was no reason to be down at the mouth after their stocks jumped over 7% within the first few hours of the day.

Is Down in the Mouth Hyphenated?

When used as an adjective before a noun, the phrase is hyphenated, as in down-in-the-mouth. This is because grammatical rules dictate that multi-word adjectives be hyphenated to express the modification of an adjective made up of more than one word.

For example:

  • My son has his share of down-in-the-mouth moments, usually when he has gone all week without sufficient rest.
  • Hearing about the company’s loss was a true down-in-the-mouth experience for the entire staff.
  • Larry’s down-in-the-mouth expression hinted at the disappointment he felt after the game.

Origins of Down in the Mouth

Down in the Mouth Ngram
Down in the mouth usage trend.

The phrase down in the mouth first appeared in the mid-1600s and simply referred to the fact that people who are unhappy are usually depicted with a frown — a facial expression that involves a downturn at the corners of the mouth.

The first known documented use of the term was recorded in 1649. Its history is referred to in “The Dictionary of Cliches” written by James Rogers in 1987 when Bishop Joseph Hall used it to describe the following:

“Glum; dispirited. It’s how one looks when the corners of one’s mouth are turned down in disheartenment or disappointment.”

Let’s Review

Down in the mouth is an idiomatic expression that describes the negative, depressed or unhappy emotions associated with the physical downturn of the corners of your mouth. Down in the mouth has been used in a figurative sense since the 17th century.