Facing the Worst

By Maeve Maddox

The English word face may be used as either a noun or a verb, as illustrated by these citations from the Oxford English Dictionary:

The skull…is divided into two parts, the Cranium and the Face. (noun)

He faced his critics head-on and…left with his dignity intact. (verb)

As a transitive verb, face means, “to show a brave or strong face to; to meet (danger, an enemy, or anything unpleasant) face to face; to oppose with confidence or defiance; to confront and deal with.”

As a transitive verb used either as a main verb or in its -ing form, face requires an object:

You face a difficult decision, and you must deal with it. (direct object: “a difficult decision”)

The most common problem facing poor households is late payment of rent or utilities. (direct object: “poor households”)

Some common expressions with the verb face are:

face the consequences/ face the music: to receive the unpleasant results (often punishment) of one’s actions.
Japan tells world to stand up to China or face consequences
Labour calls for Brownlee to face the music

face the facts: confront the truth of a situation.
Time to face the facts on immigration

In some expressions, face is used as a phrasal verb:

face up to: accept the existence of a difficult situation.
He needs to face up to his past.

face off: engage in a direct confrontation or contest.
GOP Assembly candidates to face off in August 12 primary

Because I’m used to seeing facing used transitively, with a direct object, I was surprised to encounter this use of facing followed by an adverb phrase:

Katniss, like many of her dystopian YA counterparts, faces a conflict larger than man vs. nature – she’s man vs. man, facing against an oppressive government.

More idiomatic usage would be, “facing an oppressive government,” or “fighting against an oppressive government.”

I found similar usage in two comments relating to popular music:

I believe that Wish Upon a Blackstar…is about the struggle greed brings to the world, and facing against the oppression caused by it.

Songs that follow, like Corrupted and [the] album closer Invincible, continue the theme of defiance and facing against oppression in whatever forms they may appear.

Facing is often followed by against in the context of facing traffic:

You must not park on a road at night facing against the direction of the traffic flow.

If there is no sidewalk and you have to walk on the road, walk facing against traffic.

In any other context, following facing with against strikes my ear as unidiomatic:

Any tips for facing against the Nova matchup?
Ancelotti on facing against Manchester United
Tired of facing against Shaman bots

A few more expressions with the verb face:

face up to: accept that a difficult situation exists.
Labour must face up to its past mistakes.

face head on: confront a problem directly and openly.
Japan will face the robotic jobocalypse head-on, by mastering robots before they master us.

face into: turn directly toward something.
It’s cold as you face into the wind.

face down: to confront someone or something boldly and bravely.
Austria to face down World Bank over burning bondholders.

face forward: to direct one’s focus to the future.
I was deeply impressed that, despite all of your difficult experiences, you embody such passion to face forward and build the future together.

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2 Responses to “Facing the Worst”

  • Dan Lafrenière

    Great post, Maeve. You could have mentioned “about face” (to completely reverse one’s opinion/actions) and “game face” (primarily a sports metaphor meaning ‘to seriously compete’).

    Come to think of it there is also “poker face”.

    I’ll stop here…

    Cheers,
    Dan

  • Andy Knoedler

    I’m reminded of the lovely Irving Berlin song of 1936, “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.” It was made into a kind of music video 78 years ago featuring the dancing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It’s worth looking up online and enjoying 8 minutes of pantomime (to establish the “plot”) and very together dancing.

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