How do you describe a person who is twisting and bending their body in reaction to great physical pain?

I have found "to writhe" and "to squirm"as verbs, and both of them mean " to make twisted movements". I have noticed that "squirm" is used for "worms" too.

1- What is the difference between "writhe" and "squirm"?

2- Can we use "squirm" for people too or it is considered rude?

3- What does this sentence (heard in American movies) mean: "I want to watch you squirm"?

  • 1
    The only common use of "writhe" I can think of is "To writhe in pain" - meaning hurting so bad that you are unconsciously moving without control. Feb 23, 2021 at 0:18

1 Answer 1


Yes, you certainly can use the word squirm about people

For people, writhing is considered a response to physical pain and squirming a response to embarrassment.

I want to watch you squirm

Means that I will enjoy your humiliation

  • 2
    +1. Animals can also squirm. Squirming is a contorting of the body in an attempt to escape a situation (as with human embarrassment, or a puppy trying to get loose and run away).
    – TimR
    Mar 10, 2016 at 12:15
  • 2
    For a great practical demonstration of animal squirming, pick up a cat that does not like you. Apr 15, 2017 at 14:24

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