I would like to know what "he gives me a kind of apologetic wince" means in the following sentences:

This is crazy, I think. I don’t have to drink it. I’m a thirty-four-year-old woman. I don’t even know these people, they have no hold over me. I won’t be made to do it—

‘Down it . . .’

‘Down it!’

God, they’ve started to chant.

‘Save the Queen!’

‘She’s drowning!’

Down it down it down it.

I can feel my cheeks reddening. To get their eyes off me, to stop their chanting, I knock the glass back and gulp it all down. I’d thought the champagne was delicious before but it’s awful like this, sour and sharp, stinging my throat as I cough mid-swallow, rushing up inside my nose. I feel some of it spill out over my bottom lip. I feel my eyes tear up. I’m humiliated. It’s like everyone has understood the rules of whatever is happening. Everyone but me.

Afterwards, they cheer. But I don’t think they’re cheering me. They’re congratulating themselves. I feel like a child who’s been surrounded by a ring of playground bullies. When I glance in Charlie’s direction he gives me a kind of apologetic wince. I suddenly feel very alone. I turn away from the others to hide my face.

  • Lucy Foley, The Guest List, Chapter 12

This is a thriller novel published in 2020 in the United Kingdom. One hundred and fifty guests would be gathering at some remote and deserted fictional islet called Inis an Amplóra off the coast of the island of Ireland to celebrate the wedding between Jules (a self-made woman running an online magazine called The Download) and Will (a celebrity appearing in a TV show program called Survive the Night). The day before the actual wedding day, Hannah, the wife of Charlie (Jules' friend), arrived at the island and is now at the dinner party for the rehearsal dinner with only some selected guests. And during the party, Hannah is now being forced to drink her champagne which is filled to the top, because someone put a penny in her glass. She looks towards Charlie to receive an agreement that she didn't have to drink it, but Charlie looks her in a pleading way instead, so she drinks it. Afterwards, Charlie "gives me a kind of apologetic wince."

In this part, I wonder what "apologetic wince" means here. Would that perhaps mean that Charlie feels apology towards Hannah, but still thinks that Hannah is in a horrible state now (with champagne spilling out of her mouth), and is wincing (=surprised in a negative way and frowning)...? (This is just my wild guess.)

In short, I wonder what Charlie did by "apologetic wince." Did he frown his face...? Or surprised and stepped back, perhaps...?

1 Answer 1


https://www.lexico.com/definition/wince I assume that he is wincing in sympathy with her distress, but in an apologetic way because he didn't do anything to stop the incident from happening.

  • Dear Kate Bunting, thank you very much for the explanation. So Charlie was apologetic because he couldn't do anything to prevent Hannah from drinking the champagne! And thank you also for the link. I think I am confused as to what "wince" means because I cannot imagine what gesture English speakers might take in such a situation, being in a different cultural background. (In South Korea, we might bow when we apologize.) So I just wanted to ask you, would it be okay to understand that Charlie frowned his face? Or is there some bodily gesture that would fit into this "apologetic wince"...? Commented Apr 16, 2021 at 13:40
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    Wincing is not normally anything to do with apologising! Did you look at the link I gave you? It means to grimace or make an involuntary movement of the body from a sudden pain or feeling of distress. I imagine that Charlie winced because he could see that Hannah was distressed. but in 'a kind of apologetic' way. It's difficult to imagine exactly how that would have looked; I suppose his expression was apologetic as well as distressed. Commented Apr 16, 2021 at 14:02
  • Dear Kate Bunting, thank you very much for the explanation. Then there is no implication in "wince" that Charlie was put off by Hannah's state; he was just apologetic and grimaced in a distressed way. I sincerely appreciate your help. :) Commented Apr 16, 2021 at 15:43
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    I haven't read the book, but from your synopsis of the incident I assumed that he was wincing in sympathy. Commented Apr 16, 2021 at 16:51

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