Is there a figurative phrase for "ashamed" to mean to bend your head downward or look down, as you can't look at others?

In Persian we say سر افکنده which almost means Head Down, or Head fallen


6 Answers 6


There's a similar expression in english - to hang your head (in shame). It has very much the same meaning as the expressions you mention.

Hang one's head: let one's head fall forward (e.g., when ashamed)

For example:

  • When I was caught cheating in the exam, I hung my head in shame.

  • Athletes caught taking drugs should hang their heads in shame.

  • The defendant hung his head in shame.


We also say that a person

couldn't look [someone] in the eye/face

when they are ashamed (often because they are lying, but not always). This is pretty much a set phrase, so it's often singular eye instead of plural eyes.

From Collins Dictionary:

to look someone in the eye
or look sb in the face

If you look someone in the eye or look them in the face, you look straight at their eyes in a bold and open way, for example in order to make them realize that you are telling the truth.
He could not look her in the eye.

  • I think being unable to look someone in the eye implies being caught in a lie. One might be hanging one's head in shame in circumstances where there is no dishonesty (for example, failing to properly research a quotation, meaning now that the business has to take a loss or lose an important customer).
    – nigel222
    Jan 26, 2017 at 12:48
  • @nigel222 There are lots of uses of "couldn't look [someone] in the eye" that have nothing to do with lying. Radiohead's song "Creep" comes to mind as a strong example of sort of existential shame; also things like this as a more traditional form of shame. I agree that "look me in the eyes" is usually used specifically with lying, but I don't think lying is the only thing that makes eye contact difficult.
    – 1006a
    Jan 26, 2017 at 15:50

Crestfallen (or maybe downcast) might be another single word equivalent. Crest in English refers to the head or top of something; so the word directly connotes the head being down, but means being sad or disappointed (whether because of shame/embarrassment or any other reason).




adjective: crestfallen

sad and disappointed.

"he came back empty-handed and crestfallen"

synonyms: downhearted, downcast, despondent, disappointed, disconsolate, disheartened, discouraged, dispirited, dejected, depressed, desolate, in the doldrums, sad, glum, gloomy, dismayed, doleful, miserable, unhappy, woebegone, forlorn; More

antonyms: cheerful


late 16th century: figuratively, from the original use referring to a mammal or bird having a fallen or drooping crest.

  • 1
    "Sad" and "disappointment" are pretty distinct from "shame".
    – Kirk Woll
    Jan 25, 2017 at 19:34
  • They certainly can be, and this may not be a 1:1 correspondence, but it seems pretty close to me.
    – Dan Field
    Jan 25, 2017 at 20:06
  • 1
    It's just that shame has an intrinsic sense of culpability, to which sadness and disappointment are completely orthagonal.
    – Kirk Woll
    Jan 25, 2017 at 20:19

In addition to:

hang your head in shame

we also might use:

shamefaced, tail between his legs

shame·faced ˈSHāmfāst/ adjective feeling or expressing shame or embarrassment. "all the boys looked shamefaced" synonyms: ashamed, abashed, sheepish, guilty, conscience-stricken, guilt-ridden, contrite, sorry, remorseful, repentant, penitent, regretful, rueful, apologetic; embarrassed, mortified, red-faced, chagrined, humiliated;

informal: with one's tail between one's legs "Giles looked shamefaced"

Google Dictionary

  • "Tail between legs" suggests a dressing-down by a superior or an argument hotly debated and lost. I don't think it requires shame (you may be completely right, but he's the boss). Tail down by an animal is often a surrender signal in a dominance fight.
    – nigel222
    Jan 26, 2017 at 12:53
  • @nigel222 If my dog takes something out of the wastepaper basket, I would not necessarily notice as she takes her treasures to the garden and buries them. However, if I look over and if her tail is firmly tucked beneath her, I now know to go look. She cannot keep a secret! BTW, all I do is clean it up and put the basket up higher. It's not serious to remove a toilet roll from the recycling and so she is not at all afraid. Those cardboard tubes are gold to her. Regardless, it's only a suggestion for the OP to consider, AND you aren't wrong.
    – WRX
    Jan 26, 2017 at 12:59
  • @Willow_Rex Your dog probably regards you as her personal (small-g) god, if a dog's thoughts are that advanced. I think this is the key difference between man-dog and man-cat relationships. Cats don't look up to any human, and just walk if they aren't kept happy enough to stay. (But they do put their tails down and slink away if they've lost a fight with another cat). Sorry, a bit off topic.
    – nigel222
    Jan 26, 2017 at 13:10

Bow/hang your head in shame. http://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/shame_1 Hope this helps


I have heard and read of a hangdog look or expression.

Per: Dictionary.com

shamefaced; guilty: He sneaked out of the room with a hangdog expression.


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