To keep a straight face is a figure of speech that has existed in English since the late 1800’s
Meaning of Keep a Straight Face
To keep a straight face means to stop yourself from laughing and look serious even though you are highly amused, or to keep from smiling. More generally, it means to hide your true feelings and to look serious.
This idiom is sometimes taken to have a meaning similar to poker face, which means to keep your face devoid of expressions, but this is not actually what is meant. When we say ‘keep a straight face,’ we mean to not show our real feelings; we do not mean we are attempting to look stone-faced, this is simply the effect of trying to stop from smiling or laughing. The word face can be seen to mean the same as expression, so that the meaning is more easily understood as “keep a straight (i.e. no discernible) expression.
Examples Of Use
“It is often hard for the improv comedy actors to keep a straight face when someone is doing something crazy in a skit.”
“We had Jane almost convinced that she had just eaten a cockroach but Dwayne couldn’t keep a straight face and gave the joke away.”
To smile and to laugh during amusing situations is quite automatic. Our facial muscles work involuntarily to form a smile and the reaction to laughter is hard to control, so we must work very hard to control the muscles in our face and to keep from bursting out in laughter if we want to hide our amusement. This is undoubtedly the origin of “keep a straight face.”
This idiom appeared in dictionaries of the late 1800’s so it was undoubtedly around for long enough before then to have become a recognized part of the language.
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- Kiss Ass or Kiss Butt, to
- Keep Your Pants On
- Keep Your (or one’s) Ear to the Ground
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