Cringe has two meanings.
1. It can mean that someone moves or bends their body in a way to indicate that they are afraid. This usually includes folding the body inward and slightly turning away from the source of the fear. When someone cringes they do not move or run away.
Cringing is something that is done while standing still (or at most only moving back a few steps). Although it is possible for someone to cringe in fear, and then run away from the perceived danger. This definition is often used in past tense, as it describes something that has already or just happened.
- The boy cringed in fear as we heard the dog’s loud bark.
- The woman cringed in fear when the villain suddenly appeared on the movie screen.
Synomyms for Cringe
There are many synonyms for this definition of cringe. Here are some of the most commonly used.
Cower – refers to when someone physically shrinks because of fear. When someone cowers in fear they tend to get low and hide from the perceived threat.
- The family cowered in fear when they heard the burglar break into their house.
- He cowered in fear when he saw the bear.
Shrink – can be used in different ways.
As a synonym to cringe, it refers to when someone physically either makes themselves smaller by moving backwards due to fear or feeling overwhelmed or overpowered by someone else. Shrinking doesn’t always have to be a physical movement, it can be a backing down. A weaker person can shrink to the wishes of a stronger person.
- Even though John thought his idea was better, he didn’t have the courage to fight harder for himself, and instead shrunk in fear to his louder colleague.
- She would shrink in fear every time the man came into the room.
Recoil – refers to someone quickly or suddenly flinching or springing backwards in fear or in disgust. Oftentimes when someone recoils, it’s because they are reacting to something a person is doing at the moment.
If someone says something or does something that makes someone afraid or disgusted, or have another negative reaction, that person may recoil. When someone recoils they tend to move away from that person.
- After learning the truth she recoiled when he tried to touch her.
- He recoiled in surprise after being shocked by the metal bar.
2. Cringe can also be a feeling of embarrassment or disgust. In this case cringe is more of an internal reaction than the first definition. One may cringe at something that happens to them, or they may cringe at watching something happening to someone else.
- I cringed out of sympathy when the student was laughed at for answering the question incorrectly.
- I cringed out of disgust when I realized the she wasn’t my friend, but had just been using me the whole time.
Synomyms for Cringe
Here are some synonyms for this usage of cringe.
Wince – refers to someone making a grimace or perhaps shrinking inward in reaction to something. Winces are usually made as a reaction to pain and the movement is usually involuntary.
- He winced in pain after he was hit.
- She tried not to wince as the doctor stuck the needle in her arm.
Shudder – refers to when someone shakes, or trembles in fear. While shudder is often used to describe how one reacts to fear, one can also shudder in disgust.
- The abused dog shuddered when his rescuer first touched him.
- I shudder to think about how he is going to react to this.
Antonyms for Cringe
Here are two common antonyms for cringe. They can be used for both usages of the word.
Advance – means to move forward in a meaningful, purposeful way.
- The boy confidently advanced across the room towards the stranger.
- The team advanced the ball forward.
Approach – means to come near or to come close to someone or something.
- The dog cautiously approached the front door to his new house.
- When meeting someone for the first time she always approaches them with confidence.
Cringeworthy – means that something is embarrassingly bad. This phrase has nothing to do with fear, it’s simply a reaction to something being so awful it’s embarrassing. For example a bad joke, or a really bad performance. When something is cringeworthy someone will usually grimace or have some sort of involuntary physical reaction.
- The movie was unwatchable, it was absolutely cringeworthy.
- Watching her yell and make a fool of herself was cringeworthy.