Turn that frown upside down: a systematic analysis

“Turn that frown upside down” – all of you know the phrase.

It’s a common misconception that this phrase refers to an experimental and risky plastic surgery procedure. It doesn’t, actually.

The phrase apparently means: “go from being sad to being happy”. Go figure!

I have some serious doubts about the whole thing, to be honest. The explicit directions contained in “turn that frown upside down” are inaccurate, or at least incomplete.

Allow me to make my case.

Let’s pretend that this is our starting point – the frown:

Initial Frown Face

Let’s also pretend that I can draw

You will notice that the above person is not particularly sad. Annoyed? Possibly. Angry? Quite likely. Sad? Not really, unless your definition of “sad” is “angry”, which would be nonsense, because we already have a word for “angry”. That word is “angry”.

Angry Bird Red Frowny

Not a sad bird.

So we’re already off to a horrible start with our incorrect assumptions about how sad people look. However, for the sake of the argument, let’s pretend that sad people look angry in the imaginary universe where “turn that frown upside down” makes sense.

How do we interpret the directions of the phrase? Is the whole face considered “a frown”? How does turning it upside down help?

Full Upside Down

Now you’re still sad-angry, but you’re also risking severe neck injury, because your head is contorted in that unnatural manner. Nobody is that flexible. Or are you supposed to stand on your head while frowning? You’d look ridiculous! People would laugh at you! That won’t help you become happy at all. No sir.

OK, so we’re probably literally talking about just the frown itself, then. Right? Let’s see:

Upside Down Frown

That’s just creepy. Now you’re somehow surprised and sad-angry at the same time. Only sociopaths can pull off that combination of facial expressions simultaneously. If you’re a sociopath you can’t ever truly be happy, so the whole “turn that frown upside down” isn’t for you in the first place. Plus, if you’re a sociopath, nobody wants you to be happy. Go sulk in the corner, psycho.

The only re-arrangement of facial elements that works in our example and that best resembles “happy” is this:

Proper Reversal Of Frown

Notice how the crucial component is the mouth. Yet nobody mentions the mouth. It’s not “turn that downward pointing mouth upside down”. No, it’s all about the frown, which isn’t even indicative of a sad mood.

Thus, the phrase “turn that frown upside down” is in dire need of revision.

My suggestion is:

“Turn that frown upside down while simultaneously turning your presumably sad mouth upside down as well.”

You know what? I think it was actually kind of better the first time around.



There Is MoreFor more analysis of things nobody asked me to analyse, see:

4 questions sparked by the “Ecce Homo” restoration

12 surprisingly insightful “stupid” celebrity quotes

4 questionable comparisons in idioms

20 thoughts on “Turn that frown upside down: a systematic analysis

  1. Derek Nolin says:

    I stumbled across this old website while trying to find the lyrics to a song I half-remembered from my childhood, and what I’ve realized is that you must be British or something! As an American, this whole blog post seems like gibberish! To us, a frown is a downward-pointing mouth that expresses sadness! That’s literally the definition of a frown! Children are taught to draw a “smiley-face,” and then its opposite, a frown! It might occasionally express displeasure or disapproval rather than sadness, but it occurs at the mouth. If you asked someone to draw a frown, they’d draw a mouth with the corners turned down. So hopefully that expression makes a lot more sense to you now!


  2. flyingplatypi says:

    I think the only ones who can effectively turn a frown upside down are those damned yoga experts.




      • The phrase is now officially stolen and will be used in all of my communication from now on! In fact, I’m considering changing the blog tagline to “Nest Expressed – fat and sassy”


  3. raeme67 says:

    Thank God for your blog! Many times I have stood on my head in a misguided attempt to “turn that frown upside down”, resulting in serious neck injuries and believe me nothing says “angry-sad” like a middle-aged woman standing on her head in a neck-brace.


    • Ha! I’m all about dispelling myths for angry-sad women. Although I must say seeing an angry-sad person standing on their head in an attempt to be happy can often turn my frown upside down!


  4. We sell a large round sticker in our store of a yellow smiley face. Nice, right? Except there is a bullet hole in the head of the round sticker with red blood spurting out. It’s quite popular.
    I thought the entire head upside down was brilliant! From now on, that’s what I’ll think about when I hear turn that frown upside down.
    Thanks for the laugh!


    • I have no doubt that the bloody smiley is a hit. Kids love gruesome stuff these days. And by “kids” I mean “everyone”! Tarantino isn’t popular by accident.

      Happy to make you laugh again.


  5. On a related note, they say that if you smile, even if you don’t feel like it, you’ll be happier. They also say that when you’re exercising, smiling will make a hard work out seem easier. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve tried the latter. It didn’t work.


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