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A former nun working as a prostitute cringes (sense 1) in terror and remorse before Clement, a Dominican friar, who seeks to help her return to the convent, an episode from Charles Reade’s novel The Cloister and the Hearth (1861).[n 1]

The verb is derived from Middle English crengen (to bend in a haughty manner; to condescend) [and other forms],[1] from Old English *crenċan, *crenċġan, *crengan (to cause to fall or turn), the causative of crinċġan (to yield; to cringe; to fall; to die, perish),[2] from Proto-Germanic *krangijaną (to cause to fall; to cause to turn), from Proto-Germanic *kringaną, *krinkaną (to fall; to turn; to yield) (from Proto-Indo-European *grenǵʰ- (to turn)) + *-janą (suffix forming causatives with the sense ‘to cause to do (the action of the verb)’ from strong verbs). The English word is cognate with Danish krænge (to turn inside out, evert), Dutch krengen (to careen, veer), Scots crenge, creenge, creinge, crienge (to cringe; to shrug), Swedish kränga (to careen; to heel, lurch; to toss), and West Frisian kringe (to pinch; to poke; to push; to insist, urge); and is a doublet of crinkle.

The noun[3] and adjective are derived from the verb.



cringe (third-person singular simple present cringes, present participle cringing, simple past and past participle cringed)

  1. (intransitive) To cower, flinch, recoil, shrink, or tense, as in disgust, embarrassment, or fear.
    He cringed as the bird collided with the window.
    • 1684, John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress. From This World to That which is to Come: The Second Part. [], London: [] Nathaniel Ponder [], OCLC 752743029; reprinted in The Pilgrim’s Progress as Originally Published by John Bunyan: Being a Fac-simile Reproduction of the First Edition, London: Elliot Stock [], 1875, OCLC 222146756, page 69:
      [W]hen they were come up to the place where the Lions were, the Boys that went before, were glad to cringe behind, for they were afraid of the Lions, ſo they ſtept back and went behind.
    • 1851 November 14, Herman Melville, “A Bosom Friend”, in Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, 1st American edition, New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers; London: Richard Bentley, OCLC 57395299, page 55:
      And besides all this, there was a certain lofty bearing about the Pagan, which even his uncouthness could not altogether maim. He looked like a man who had never cringed and never had had a creditor.
    • 1860, [John B. Newman], “The Combat”, in Wa-Wa-Wanda: A Legend of Old Orange, New York, N.Y.: Rudd & Carleton, [], OCLC 6186322, page 28:
      Here the angel ceased, and frowning, / Hurled his heavy gauntlet at him; / Hurled, as best he could, the creature, / Cringing as the Serpent cringeth, / Coiled, and with his crest uplifted; / And then prone upon his belly, / Crawled away upon his belly, [...]
    • 1917 April, Jack London, chapter VIII, in Jerry of the Islands, New York, N.Y.: The Macmillan Company, OCLC 775437, page 115:
      But he [Jerry, a dog] made no whimper. Nor did he wince or cringe to the blows. He bored straight in, striving, without avoiding a blow, to beat and meet the blow with his teeth.
  2. (intransitive, figuratively) To experience an inward feeling of disgust, embarrassment, or fear; (by extension) to feel very embarrassed.
  3. (intransitive) To bow or crouch in servility.
  4. (intransitive, figuratively) To act in an obsequious or servile manner.
  5. (transitive, obsolete) To draw (a body part) close to the body; also, to distort or wrinkle (the face, etc.).
  6. (transitive, obsolete) To bow or crouch to (someone) in servility; to escort (someone) in a cringing manner.


Alternative forms[edit]

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cringe (countable and uncountable, plural cringes)

  1. (countable) A gesture or posture of cringing (recoiling or shrinking).
    He glanced with a cringe at the mess on his desk.
  2. (countable, figuratively) An act or disposition of servile obeisance.
  3. (countable, Britain, dialectal) A crick (painful muscular cramp or spasm of some part of the body).
  4. (uncountable, slang) Awkwardness or embarrassment which causes an onlooker to cringe; cringeworthiness.
    There was so much cringe in that episode!



cringe (comparative more cringe, superlative most cringe)

  1. (slang) Inducing awkwardness or embarrassment; cringemaking, cringeworthy, cringy.



  1. ^ From Charles Reade, chapter XXXIII, in The Cloister and the Hearth: A Tale of the Middle Ages, volume II (The Autobiography of a Thief), illustrated library edition, Boston, Mass.; New York, N.Y.: Colonial Press Company, 1861, published c. 1900, OCLC 247436795, illustration between pages 312 and 313.


  1. ^ crenǧen, v.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. ^ Compare “cringe, v.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, November 2010; “cringe, v.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.
  3. ^ cringe, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, November 2010; “cringe, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.