Lose face and save face

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Lose face and save face are two idioms that came into English use at different times. An idiom is a figure of speech that is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. We will examine the meanings of the terms lose face and save face, where they came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

To lose face means to lose someone’s respect, to be humiliated in front of others. The term lose face came into English usage in 1876 when Britain’s consular official to China, Sir Robert Hart, wrote These from Land of Sinim – Essays on the Chinese question. In these essays, Hart invoked the Chinese idea of tiu lien, translated as suffering public disgrace.

Save face means to maintain someone’s respect, to maintain the esteem of others. The term save face was coined as the opposite of lose face, and is not a direct translation of a Chinese phrase. It first appeared at the turn of the twentieth century.


They believe that attempts to bully China into submission will meet with implacable opposition from a regime in Beijing determined not to lose face. (The Guardian)

If the dominant narrative on the trade war with the US is that it’s an “opium war 2.0,” then it makes any significant concession from the Chinese virtually impossible, because any significant concession would make Xi Jinping lose face and possibly even lose his political power. (Sputnik International)

To perhaps save face, British has recently started offering a handful of award ticket fare sales to illustrate the value of Avios to its customers. (Forbes Magazine)

He indicated that trade wars were easy to win, that negotiations were easy but he is finding out that that is not the case and so he is now trying to get some sort of a deal that will help the administration save face.  (The Economic Times)