Are there any English idioms that are used to describe a man being afraid of wife?

In Chinese there are lots of ways to express it, formal ways, condescending, or colorful. Please describe the situations to use them when giving your suggestions.

  • 14
    Another suitable word could be 'married'...
    – Steve Ives
    Apr 29, 2015 at 16:15
  • 1
    SWMBO = She who must be obeyed, possibly popularized by Rumpole of the Bailey.
    – mkennedy
    Apr 29, 2015 at 21:10
  • 1
    'John Bobbit'...
    – Damien H
    Apr 30, 2015 at 3:35
  • I don't know if the Firefly reference will cross language boundaries, but the mixing of Chinese and fear of one's wife brings to mind a quote from Wash: "wo de ma he ta de feng kuang de wai sheng dou... I wish I was somebody else right now. Somebody not… married, not... madly in love with a beautiful woman who... can... kill me with her pinkie!"
    – Cort Ammon
    May 1, 2015 at 21:21

9 Answers 9


While it does not explicitly mean "afraid of wife", henpecked refers to a man who is controlled by his wife. Much more vulgar, pussy-whipped has the same meaning.

  • +1 because when I read the question first, the first word came to my mind was 'henpecked'. I then read this answer and now upvoted! Arguably henpecked are generally afraid of their wives.
    – Maulik V
    Apr 29, 2015 at 4:36
  • 16
    whipped is a less-vulgar expression that can be used in the same situations as pussy-whipped. Apr 29, 2015 at 15:40
  • 4
    pussy whipped is not so much fear of the wife, but fear of losing the pussy. Apr 30, 2015 at 17:15
  • Isn't it ironic and funny how this thing was flagged as VLQ?!
    – M.A.R.
    Apr 30, 2015 at 19:13
  • 1
    While in college I had a classmate who was very much in love, spending all of his time with his girl-friend. Shortly he was called only PW by our entire circle of friends, though not in mixed company. I cannot remember his real name.
    – Ast Pace
    May 1, 2015 at 1:06

In Chinese, 怕 is not exactly a direct translation of the English "afraid" in the main sense of the word. Afraid usually means feeling fear, a distressing emotion of impending pain or danger - it's more like the Chinese 恐 in most cases.

For example, in Chinese you can say 怕冷, but this does not mean you are actually "afraid of the cold" in the English sense - this is too strong. It's more like you are "intimidated by the cold."

So I would say 怕 more like "intimidated by," and 怕老婆 as "intimidated by my wife." Or, as others have said, browbeaten, whipped, or henpecked. However, be aware that all of these have a negative connotation in English (of the man being weak), so I feel that "intimidated by my wife," which is neutral, most closely captures 怕老婆.

These are subtle differences, but I feel it's these little things that make learning a language both fun and challenging.

  • You'll see that's why people are recommending "-phobia" or "恐怖症" in this thread - afraid is just too strong for 怕.
    – Menos
    Apr 29, 2015 at 23:46
  • Hello! Welcome to ELL SE! Apr 30, 2015 at 0:01
  • Suggested edit: 恐惧 instead of just 恐. 恐 is not used on its own in modern Chinese, but just in compounds. Note also that 怕老婆 definitely has a connotation of the man being weak in Chinese.
    – Alex D
    May 1, 2015 at 14:16

a man who does everything he is told to by the lady in his life [and vice versa], often for fear of reprisals, can be described as under the thumb.

see 'under my thumb' by the rolling stones...


A wife may "wear the pants in the family," meaning she has runs the household. Not so much fear as a lack of control.

  • I like this one; although it doesn't imply fear it might be related. For future answers some research and a reference (evidence of usage in this case) would make the answer even better. Welcome to the ELL :-)
    – Lucky
    Apr 29, 2015 at 23:37
  • This is related but I don't think it answers the question. Apr 30, 2015 at 8:59
  • I, the OP, am with Lucky -- answers that don't imply fear are still welcome as they might be related, like "wife wears the pants in the family" or, even SWMBO. They just give a rich sense of different ways and angles to express it.
    – xpt
    Apr 30, 2015 at 22:05
  • +1. This actually translates 怕老婆 very well.
    – Alex D
    May 1, 2015 at 14:18

As I said in my comment, henpecked is the closest term to what you are searching. Logically, all henpecked men are afraid of their wives. I mean, that's why they are henpecked.

If you take liberty, you may toss a word - wife-o-phobia! It is not standard but I'm quite sure that it'll be understood since 'phobia' is not an unknown term anymore.

Another word that comes to my mind is 'wife-ridden'. The word 'ridden' in this sense may be used to describe someone having control over someone up to an extent that it develops 'fear' in the subject being controlled.

As a doctor, I know another word. From New Latin, from Greek gametē (means wife) the word comes 'gametophobia'. Ideally it should be 'fear of wife' but sources say that it's gamete+gamos (marriage) SO it's actually 'fear of marriage'. So, if we describe a bachelor 'gametophobic', he's afraid of getting married but if we refer a married man a gametophobic, he's afraid of his wife? I'm not sure!

  • 2
    You could try syzygophobia. σύζυγος means wife or husband so it is even gender-neutral :)
    – oerkelens
    Apr 29, 2015 at 10:38
  • @oerkelens omg, even Google does not know this! :P
    – Maulik V
    Apr 29, 2015 at 11:01
  • I'm not surprised. It's a touchy subject that many peopole keep hidden :P And of course, I made the word up on the spot. My wife should be proud of me. I hope. :P
    – oerkelens
    Apr 29, 2015 at 11:07
  • For your sake, let's hope she is :P Apr 29, 2015 at 17:05
  • The word "hag-ridden" is used repeatedly in Blythe Spirit by Noel Coward, although it's intentionally offensive. May 1, 2015 at 16:34

Another word I can think of is obedient husband. An obedient husband will say that he is not "afraid of his wife" per se, but if you observe his behavior closely, whatever his wife wishes, he will comply, for her wish is his command. ;-)

Obedient husband can sound even poetic!

I am, with the utmost affection, your obedient husband, and most humble servant.
--Elegant Epistels: Being a Copious Collection of Familiar and Amusing Letters

  • Hopefully the obedience goes both ways.
    – Tony Ennis
    May 2, 2015 at 13:26

Another one that comes to mind is whipped. If you say a guy's whipped you mean he's been beaten into submission by his partner and is unwilling to do anything that might anger her. For example, "he's too whipped to go to the bar tonight."

  • 2
    I'm not sure. Whipped to me means more submissive than afraid. Although, looking over the question maybe "afraid of wife" is a very loose translation of the concept that xpt is looking for.
    – ColleenV
    Apr 29, 2015 at 17:39

One of my favorites is, "If mama aint happy, aint nobody happy." Meaning, "If the mother of my children is unhappy, everyone in the family is unhappy."

  • 3
    I've heard a paraphrase of this one: Happy wife, happy life. It doesn't address fear per se, but it's often used as cautionary advice.
    – J.R.
    Apr 29, 2015 at 17:38
  • You're right, it doesn't express fear, but gives one good reason to be afraid
    – Ast Pace
    Apr 29, 2015 at 19:01
  • @J.R. My life tends to become less happy if I use that phrase within earshot of the wife. Apr 30, 2015 at 20:33

For a clinical-sounding term, you could describe the man as uxoriphobic, which is not listed directly in any dictionary that I could find, but comes from the Latin root uxor, meaning "wife", and the suffix -phobia, meaning "fear of".

  • Uxor is not a prefix, it is the Latin word for wife. Phobia is derived from the Ancient Greek φοβος and I have seen it used as a noun, so I wouldn't call it a suffix.
    – 11684
    Apr 29, 2015 at 20:58
  • 4
    -phobia is definitely a suffix in English.
    – Joe
    Apr 29, 2015 at 21:43
  • @Joe: I think the precise meaning of suffix is being sought here; phobia is a word by itself, not a particle you only tack on at the end of other words. Combined words like wristwatch and arachnophobia are compounds of two words; and phobia is certainly used as the second component in such compounds -- I guess that's what you are actually trying to say. The term suffixoid (from the linked Wikipedia article) may also be close to what you are trying to describe.
    – tripleee
    Apr 30, 2015 at 4:15
  • Depends who you ask.
    – Joe
    Apr 30, 2015 at 5:15
  • The etymology is sound but, consistent with you not being able to find it in a dictionary, it seems the term is very rarely used. But +1 anyway: I'd have posted this myself if you hadn't done so already. Apr 30, 2015 at 9:01

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