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If I translate literally "she said that to my face" from English to Vietnamese, then "that" often refers to something bad or negative or something that you hate.

For example, your friend came to your house and you said "make yourself at home". He then went to the cookie jar and ate too many of them. You got a little upset and you said to his face that he shouldn't eat too many.

In the dictionary, it just means "directly to someone"

to someone's face : directly to someone

If you have something to say about me, you should say it to my face. [=say it directly to me rather than to someone else]

Does "something" in "say something to someone's face" refer to anything or bad things or things that you hate?

Examples of Neutral things can be:

"I don't know how to solve the riddle so I told it to her face" or "I was broke so told it to his face"?

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  • How are your neutral remarks "about her"? The word "about" there means "concerning" not "in the proximity of".
    – TimR
    Apr 17 at 11:25

3 Answers 3

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If you have something to say about me, you should say it to my face.

In the dramatic real-world contexts in which that statement is used, "something" means "a critical comment", certainly not praise or some bland statement of fact like "She likes Coldplay" or "She has a new puppy".

Compare Stop saying things about me behind my back.

where "things" again refers, in context, to criticisms or accusations of some kind of wrongdoing.

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Saying something to one's face definitely has a stronger connotation than just "directly" - it implies speaking frankly, usually pretty brashly. It's true that you'd usually say negative things this way:

I couldn't stand it anymore - I had to tell him to his face how bad his dog smells.

But there are other things which normally you'd want to communicate in a more roundabout way:

He knew he was bad at flirting, so the only thing he could do was tell her to her face that he loves her to death.

Tim Sherwood tells £45m Chelsea player to his face that Mauricio Pochettino should build the team around him.

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It can be what you like in context.

POSITIVE
John: "What, you said she was pretty??" Mario: "Yes, I said it to her face".

NEGATIVE
John: "What, you told him to his face that he cheated you out of that money?" Mario: "Yep, right to his face".

Negative or positive here depends on context. [we also use say here, not just tell]
However, the neutral one would make me push the negative buzzer. It is never neutral.

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  • Please disregard the downvotes which are totally unjustified.
    – Lambie
    Apr 22 at 14:42

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