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The meaning and origin of the expression: Lose face - Save face

Lose face - Save face

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Lose face - Save face'?

Lose face - Be humiliated; lose one's reputation.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Lose face - Save face'?

Lose face'Lose face' began life in English as a translation of the Chinese phrase 'tiu lien'. That phrase may also be expressed in English as 'to suffer public disgrace', that is, to be unable to show one's face in public. In 1876, the consular official Sir Robert Hart published a series of essays - These from Land of Sinim - Essays on the Chinese question which included this observation:

"The country [China] begins to feel that Government consented to arrangements by which China has lost face; the officials have long been conscious that they are becoming ridiculous in the eyes of the people."

Hart was well-regarded in both Britain and China. In addition to his baronetcy he was awarded the CMG, KCMG, and GCMG. China honoured him with several high status awards, including the title of grand guardian of the heir apparent, an honour never before (or after) bestowed on a foreigner.

'Save face' comes later. It has no direct equivalent in Chinese and is merely the converse of 'lose face'. The first known record of it in print is in the June 1899 edition of The Harmsworth Magazine:

"That will save my face in the City."

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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