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Why do we say ‘poker face’ and other popular expressions? Here are 3 idioms and their origins

Popular phrases like 'save face' and 'long face' have longstanding meanings

With thousands upon thousands of words in the English language, some are bound to have different meanings and uses. 

An idiom is defined as "an expression in the usage of a language that is peculiar to itself either in having a meaning that cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements in its grammatically atypical use of words," according to Merriam-Webster. 

Some popular sayings in the metaphorical vein include "cat got your tongue" and "under the weather."

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Many idioms, however, focus on words about the human body — and particularly, the face. 

But why do we say these? What do they really mean? 

Two people talking

With thousands upon thousands of words in the English language, some are bound to have different meanings and uses.  (iStock)

And where did they originate? 

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Here are three "face-focused" idioms and their intriguing meanings and origins. 

3 popular sayings about the face

1. ‘Poker face’

The phrase "poker face" is often used to describe the expression people are showing (or not showing) on their face in a given moment. 

Poker face

The term "poker face" is naturally a reference to the popular card game.  (iStock)

In the game of poker, the goal is to not let other players know the cards you have. 

To have a "poker face" is to be as stoic and unrevealing as possible to ensure you aren’t hinting or spilling the beans about the cards you hold.

The phrase might also be used when someone is thought to be lying. 

"Your poker face isn’t great."

A person might say, "Your poker face isn’t great" — meaning the person is giving away too much about their secret.

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The term is thought to have originated in the 1870s in terms of the game, though it's been popular for years. 

In 2008, Lady Gaga released a song called "Poker Face" — which won Gaga a Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording. 

2. ‘Save face’ 

The idiom "to save face" means "to avoid having other people lose respect" for you. 

The idiom "to save face" means "to avoid having other people lose respect" for you.  (iStock)

The idiom "save face" is often used when someone is trying to avoid humiliation or embarrassment. 

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Merriam-Webster says it means "to avoid having other people lose respect for oneself."

The phrase is thought to have origins in Chinese culture — along with the phrase "lose face," which has a similar meaning. 

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For example, people might say they had a chance to "save face" by quitting an unsuccessful endeavor or an effort — and hinting that by doing so, they would have eliminated humiliation. 

3. ‘Long face’

Sad kid

Someone with a "long face" isn't exactly jumping for joy.  (iStock)

A "long face" as a popular expression means someone has a sad-looking appearance. 

For example, one might ask a friend, "Why the long face?" 

This would acknowledge that the person appears upset or unhappy. 

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A long face is described as "an unhappy or gloomy expression" by Dictionary Online. 

The earliest known use of the phrase was recorded in the mid-1700s through philosophical transactions, notes the Oxford English Dictionary.

Brittany Kasko is a lifestyle production assistant with Fox News Digital. 

Authored by Brittany Kasko via FoxNews June 10th 2024