I have stumbled upon this expression twice now, once in Bram Stoker's Dracula in which he writes:

Then the mountains seemed to come nearer to us on each side and to frown down upon us.

and in The Hobbit which writes:

The river goes on and on and the mountain in the distance seems to frown down on him.

What is it about a mountain that makes it frown, and is there a symbolic meaning?

3 Answers 3


There is nothing in the definition of either that connects mountains to frowns, nor is it a common idiom. It is probably used in these specific cases for literary effect. I think it's an allusion to how one would feel in front of a large, powerful, frowning authority figure. It's intended to be a little bit intimidating or ominous.


If you look at the shape of the eye brows

enter image description here

you can see the lines like two mountain curves.

This picture from Pentaxuser is called "frowning mountains":

enter image description here

You can see the same shape like frowning eyebrows which I have indicated with red lines.

I have found the phrase "frown on/upon" explained as

disapprove of, dislike, discourage, take a dim view of, look askance at, discountenance, view with disfavour, not take kindly to, show disapproval or displeasure (Free Dictionary)

Frown down is more difficult to find. In the description of frown, I have found this:

To look or act disapprovingly or threateningly; lower: as, to frown upon a scheme. To repress or repel by an aspect of displeasure; rebuke by a stern or angry look or by severe words or conduct: as, to frown one into silence; to frown down a proposition. (Wordnik)

Now a mountain is tall and looks like frowning (that's why it is said to frown down). Depending on the context, it can mean either intimidating or threatening, hostile.

  • Is that a sweatdrop above the eyebrow? Emanata much? :P
    – Eddie Kal
    Jan 22, 2021 at 18:33
  • 5
    Note that speakers of British English see a frown as an arrangement of the brows, whereas American English generally uses it to refer to the mouth. See the ''Separated by a Common Language'' blog
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 22, 2021 at 18:43
  • @EddieKal: Funny :) I thought of editing the picture, but allowed myself to be lazy in the end. Which I don't regret, because it gave you the opportunity to teach me a new word, like Emanata! Thanks!
    – fev
    Jan 22, 2021 at 19:23
  • @ColinFine: Thank you very much for your input. As a non-native, there was no way I would know this!
    – fev
    Jan 22, 2021 at 19:23
  • I was going to comment before asking what this has to do with a frown, then I saw @ColinFine's input.
    – Hearth
    Jan 23, 2021 at 3:58

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle talks about 'staring villas" which resemble human faces with large rectangular eyes which seem to 'stare' at the viewer.

enter image description here

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