Franking face? No! You either frown at or frank upon


Some people are fond of jovially saying, ‘Stop franking your face.’ They do so to show how awkward the statement sounds. The fact, however, is that some actually believe ‘franking face’ is a correct expression and thus use it – whereas it is pregnant with at least two major blunders.

In the first place, although ‘franking’ is a legitimate English word, its meaning is different from that of ‘frowning’, which is what is expected in the context of ‘face’. As an adjective, to be frank is to be honest or blunt in speech or writing. As a verb, ‘frank’ means to print a mark on a stamp so that the stamp cannot be used again; or to print a mark on an envelope to show that the cost of sending it has been paid.

Secondly, ‘frown’, the word the speaker should use instead of ‘franking face’, does not require ‘face’ because the latter is naturally embedded in its meaning. In other words, ‘frown your face’ is also wrong as it is tautological. You only frown, you don’t frown your face.

Frown at or frown upon?

Using ‘frown’ also demands caution.  This particularly has to do with the preposition to use with it. Especially as a verb, it collocates with ‘at’ and ‘upon’.  The choice of which to use between the two prepositions, however, depends on the context. This means that there are times it is wrong to say ‘frown at’ while it is also not every time you can have ‘frown upon’.

Frown at

Literally, to ‘frown’ is to make an angry, unhappy or confused expression, moving your eyebrows together (according to Longman Dictionary). In this sense, it can be a noun or a verb. As a verb, it can be used transitively or intransitively. A transitive verb is the one that takes an object while the intransitive has no object. The most important point here is that, in this circumstance, ‘at’ is the correct preposition with the term:

I don’t like the frown on his face. (Noun)

The man frowned. (As an intransitive verb)

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The man frowned at me. (Transitive.)

The man frowned upon me. (Wrong)

Frown upon

When we condemn an act or disapprove of it, ‘frown’ can also be used to express our mind. But, here, we normally say ‘frown on’ or ‘frown upon’, not ‘frown at’. This is the area many people mix up ‘frown at’ with ‘frown upon’:

The cleric frowned at the way the policeman described the gathering. (Wrong)

The cleric frowned upon the way the policeman described the gathering. (Correct)

The Supreme Court frowned at the way the President and the CBN Governor are disobeying its order on naira validity. (Wrong)

The Supreme Court frowned upon the way the President and the CBN governor are disobeying its order on naira validity. (Correct) ,

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