What Does A Slap in the Face Mean?

Slap in the Face Meaning

Definition: A harsh insult, criticism, or rejection.

Origin of Slap in the Face

This expression can be literal as well as figurative, and the two meanings are likely related. The idiomatic usage dates back to the late 1800s.

Imagine if someone literally slapped you in the face. You would likely feel offended and embarrassed. This is also the case for the figurative use.

It is unclear exactly why this wording was chosen. There are several possibilities. However, none of them has much support.

One idea is that if one person makes unwanted romantic advances towards another, that other person might slap the offending person across the face. This could explain the rejection meaning of the idiom.

Another idea comes from history. In the past, someone could slap another person across the face with an empty glove in order to challenge that person to a duel. To keep one’s honor, the slapped person must agree to the duel.

Neither origin story is definitive.

Examples of Slap in the Face

slap on the faceIn the dialogue below, two friends are discussing a failed relationship.

Tina: I heard that you and Ria broke up. I’m sorry about that.

Keanu: It’s okay. It’s for the best. I know that we were having problems, but I just wish that she had talked to me about them rather than cheating on me. If she had said that she wanted to see other people, I would have agreed. I feel like the cheating was such a slap in the face. I am so embarrassed about it.

In this example, one friend is discussing a problem he had at work.

Jonah: I hate my boss. She’s the worst manager ever.

Tatiana: Why? What happened?

Jonah: She accused me of stealing from the company. I’ve been there longer than anyone. Why would I just suddenly start stealing? She accused me in front of all the other employees. She didn’t even have the decency to talk to me privately. It was such a slap in the face after all my years of dedicated service.

Outside Example

a slap to the faceThis example is about a city that will not raise the minimum raise, despite the residents voting to do so.

  • “It’s a slap in the face on people who voted in favor of increasing the minimum wage,” Calumet City resident Joaquin Vazquez said of the vote after the meeting. “I think we need to keep fighting and organizing and working on it. I understand the times are hard, but something can be done, not just a flat ‘No.'” –Chicago Tribune


The phrase a slap in the face means an unexpected humiliation, usually in the form of a put down or other affront.