“Have Egg on Your Face,” “Put Your Foot in it,” and “Sheepish”: Idioms and Phrases for Embarrassing Situations!

Do you “Have Egg on Your Face”? Have you “Put Your Foot in it”? Do you feel “Sheepish”? In this episode of Thinking in English, let’s learn some other useful idioms and phrases to describe embarrassment!!


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Over the past few weeks I have recorded episodes on idioms and phrases you can use to describe certain emotions. The first episode was on happiness, and last week I released one on sadness! I made a poll on Spotify asking you to vote on which emotion I should do next, and the feeling of embarrassment was victorious! So, today’s episode will give you some amazing phrases, idioms, and proverbs to help you in an embarrassing situations.

If you listen on Spotify, make sure you vote in the polls I put on my episode as they are a chance for you to decide what kind of episodes I produce! And if you ever have any recommendations or topics you want me to cover, just send me an Instagram message or reach out to my email!

Feelings are sometimes hard to describe, but I’m sure everyone listening has felt embarrassed before. Embarrassment is feeling ashamed, self-conscious, awkward, or shamed. Your face may turn red and you might struggle to speak. When you feel embarrassed you often want to run away, or wish that you were invisible! There are many reasons to be embarrassed: when you make a mistake, accidentally say the wrong thing, or are caught in an embarrassing situation!

The following idioms are all related to embarrassment; the feelings of being embarrassed, ashamed, and awkward. Some directly link to feelings, while others describe the context, your reaction, and what you should do in the situation. So, without further ado, let’s get into today’s idioms!


To have egg on your face

To have egg on your face may be the most famous idiom for embarrassing situations! It means to be embarrassed, look a little foolish or stupid, or to find yourself in an awkward situation due to your own actions. Both people and organisations can have egg on their faces. The government could have egg on their face after a corruption scandal, while a singer has egg on their face after forgetting song lyrics. I’m not sure on the origin of this idiom, but throwing eggs and rotten vegetables at actors who were performing badly used to be quite common. So, perhaps it comes from that time!

“Oh no! My boss found out my mistake and now I have egg on my face!”

Make a fool (out) of (someone or oneself)

If you make a fool out of yourself, you do something that makes you seem stupid or ridiculous. If you make a fool out of someone else you make that person look foolish. This is a really common English idiom. People make fools of themselves all the time: when drinking alcohol, when caught telling a lie, or when they perform badly in a situation. We also like to warn our friends if someone is trying to make a fool out of them! A similar idiom is to make a monkey (out) of someone. Both ‘fools’ and ‘monkeys’ are associated with embarrassment in English!

“I’m not going to dance at the work party because I don’t want to make a fool out of myself” 

Put your foot in it

This idiom refers to a situation where you embarrass someone else (and therefore embarrass yourself as well). If you put your foot in it you say something foolish or offensive. The thing you say is unintentional and embarrasses the person you are with, and because they get embarrassed you also get embarrassed. A funny example of putting your foot in it that TV shows often use is when a person congratulates a woman on being pregnant, but then it turns out they are not! The person you congratulated gets embarrassed (because it suggests you think that they look a little fatter), and you get embarrassed for saying a rude thing! You certainly put your foot in it.  You can also say put your foot in your mouth!

“My Dad put his foot in it when he brought up the topic of politics at a friend’s party!”

Can’t look (someone) in the eye/face

If you look someone in the eye it means you look at someone directly, with confidence and without shame. In contrast, if you cannot look someone in the eye or face it means you are embarrassed or ashamed. In western culture, eye contact is a sign of respect and confidence, however this might be different in your cultures! When you are embarrassed (maybe you did something to annoy, hurt, or inconvenience another person) many people don’t have the confidence to look them in the eye and tell them!

“I couldn’t look him in the eye after crashing his car.”

Sheepish

This adjective has two meanings: on the one hand to be embarrassed, and on the other hand to be meek or stupid. If you are sheepish, you are embarrassed through looking foolish or being in the wrong. It is used to describe the timid or passive actions an embarrassed person does! The animal sheep are said to be timid and shy animals. Sheepish is an adjective that can be used in place of ‘embarrassed,’ ‘uncomfortable,’ ‘ashamed,’ ‘foolish,’ ‘shamefaced,’ and others!

“He looked a little sheepish when he answered her question!

Red faced

One of the ways our body reacts to the feeling of embarrassment and shame, is to blush. Blushing is the verb used to describe your face turning red! Therefore, red-faced has become an idiom to describe blushing from embarrassment, and the general feeling of embarrassment. A variant of this idiom is to compare an embarrassed face to something that is red. A common example for the UK is red as a beetroot! 

“The boy was red-faced when the teacher made him speak in front of the whole school”

Wish the ground would open up and swallow me

We’ve all been embarrassed before, so we know that it is not a very nice feeling! Often we don’t know what to do, and just want to leave the embarrassing situation. Leaving the situation would provide some relief from the feeling of embarrassment. If you wish the ground would open up and swallow you, you are wishing that you could escape and find that instant relief from a source of extreme embarrassment. I remember watching a YouTube video where a man proposed to his girlfriend in a busy restaurant, but she turned him down. I bet he wished the ground would open up and swallow him! Another variant you may hear is wish the ground would swallow (one) up

“I wished the ground would open up and swallow me whole when I forgot the words to my speech”

Want to curl up and die 

This is very similar to the previous idiom! If you want to curl up and die, you wish you could escape or have instant relief from being extremely embarrassed. You feel very ashamed and sorry about something!  It is often used in a light-hearted way, as a joke to emphasize your feeling! 

“I wanted to curl up and die when I accidentally walked into the girl’s bathroom!”

Swallow your pride

This idiom is a little different from the others! If you swallow your pride you do something even if you are embarrassed or ashamed about it. You swallow your pride and do something you think is humiliating or below your standard! If you are struggling to find a job, maybe you need to swallow your pride and accept an entry-level position. If you had an argument with your girlfriend, maybe you should swallow your pride and apologize. During difficult economic times, people sometimes need to swallow their pride and ask for help. All these situations may be a little embarrassing, but sometimes we need to swallow our pride and do things we find humiliating!

“She is very independent, so it was difficult for her to swallow her pride and ask for help!”


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