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The meaning of "po-faced"?

Posted by Shae on January 19, 2004

In Reply to: The meaning of "po-faced"? posted by James Briggs on January 19, 2004

: : : The Guardian: "...remembering his darling mummy, po-faced in her monster knickers, unable to laugh, cough or sneeze." I run across this expression again and again, but haven't been able to precisely understand it from context. Synonyms, anyone?

: : It means wearing a disapproving, stern expression. It is often applied to a person who remains stern-faced when everyone else is enjoying themselves. The Collins Concise dictionary says it's derived from 'poor-faced.'

: I always understood that it referred to the fixed expression that a poker player tries to adopt in order to hide his/her delight or disappointment at the cards they have been dealt.

A Google-search suggests it can have both meanings. The Word Detective has: "Po-faced" dates back to around 1934 and means, as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it (and who would know better?), "having or assuming an expressionless or passive face." Rounding out a rather unpleasant portrait, the OED lists the synonyms "priggish, narrow-minded or smug."

The on-line dictionary at gives: po-faced, adj, derog colloq:
1. Wearing a disapproving or solemn expression.
2. Narrow-minded.

Etymology: 1930s: perhaps from po (for pooh) or po1, influenced by poker-faced.