Posted by R. Berg on August 31, 2007
In Reply to: Tighten his jaw posted by Victoria S Dennis on August 30, 2007
: : : : : What does someone exactly do, if he "tightens his jaw"?
: : : : : The context is a lecture, the man giving the speech is quite tired of it already.
: : : : : "He tightened his jaw, coughed and drew himself up one last time"
: : : : It is an indication that he is determined, resolute.
: : : Incidentally, it's not a metaphor. It means he contracted the muscles around his jaw joints, like making a fist. ~rb
: : Unless he tightened his jaw in some peculiar way, the normal way to say it is, "He clenched his jaw." Or perhaps that's just the medico-dental way to say it, as in "Sleeping with yourjaw clenched is hard on your teeth."
: Mmh. In my book clenching one's jaw is a degree more intense than merely tightening it, and would indicate serious stress rather than mere resolve. Certainly to me "he tightened his jaw" seems a perfectly normal phrase. Is this perhaps a divergence between Leftpondian & Rightpondian usage? (VSD)
The two phrases seem equally normal to me (U.S.). We usually speak of clenching one's teeth, though, not one's jaw. To clench the teeth is to bring the uppers and lowers together and hold them there with muscular effort. I can easily see a fiction writer writing "He tightened his jaw" to convey a character's emotional state without describing it directly. Fiction writers do things like that.
My friend the cognitive linguist says "clench" is one of a small class of verbs that take a very few words as their objects. People clench teeth, jaws, fists, and not much else. ~rb