Cringey or Cringy: Meaning and Correct Usage

Writing in English can be tricky, especially when two words sound the same, but their spellings are different, as are their meanings, such as witch and which. However, what if two words have different spellings, but they mean the same thing? The words “cringey” and “cringy” are excellent examples, but are both words correct? 

“Cringey” is the preferred spelling with “cringy” being less common. Both are the informal adjective form of the noun “cringe.” Although many spell-checkers do not recognize “cringy,” it has nonetheless worked its way into what is considered acceptable English.   

English spelling is not the easiest subject to master, but this article will focus on the correct spelling of the adjective form of the noun “cringe.” Continue reading as I explain that, although there is no difference in meaning, one is the best spelling, while many still accept the other as a less-common variant.

Which Is Correct: Cringey or Cringy? 

While many people dispute whether the correct spelling is “cringey” or “cringy,” a search through the most reputable online dictionaries will show that the best spelling is “cringey.”

Both words are common in everyday speech and writing and seem acceptable to many. However, if you search for “cringy” on the internet, only one or two results will recognize it as a valid word. In fact, reputable dictionary sources will appear and offer you results for the word “cringey” instead.

Suppose you search using the spelling “cringey.” In that case, a vast amount of resources appear, and there are no options redirecting you instead to “cringy.” According to dictionary sources and the world wide web, “cringey” is the better option of the two and the correct spelling. 

But why is it the correct spelling? Before we answer this, let’s briefly discuss what it is to cringe.

What Does Cringe Mean?

Fear, Hide, Responsibility, Adversary, Accusing, Suit
Image by mohamed_hassan via Pixabay

The word “cringey” is the abbreviated adjective form of the verb “cringe,” which means to recoil or shrink away from something in distaste, fear, or servility (source).

Word Origins and Usage

Linguists trace the word cringe back to the Old English word cringan, meaning to fall in battle, yield, or give away. Cringan comes from the word krant in the Proto-Germanic language, which means to curl up or bend. 

Today, the word “cringe” has several different meanings. It could mean to cower in humility or fear, shrink back in distaste, or involuntarily retract and contract one’s muscles from pain or cold. 

It could also mean to feel awkward or embarrassed or to act in an extraordinarily servile and humble manner. 

The word “cringe” has been in use for centuries. Cringe used as a verb dates back to the 13th century and as a noun from the late 1500s. As a noun, we can use “cringe” to describe humility, specifically through a subservient bow.

Examples of Cringing

Below are some examples of cringe and some of its variant forms. 

Cringing in fear or humility: 

The cat cringed away from her into the corner. 
The children cringed as the strict headmaster walked through their class.  

Cringing in distaste: 

I cringed as I heard Jacob’s foul language; I was utterly shocked. 
He cringed as he looked at his new hairstyle, or what was supposed to be a hairstyle. 

Cringing because of the cold or pain: 

We cringe while standing by the bus stop in the cold wind. 

Cringing when feeling embarrassed or awkward: 

I cringed at the principal’s poorly chosen words in the morning address. 
The master of ceremonies left us all cringing as he shared some of the groom’s past escapades. 

Cringing in servile and humble manner: 

The beggars were cringing at passersby for alms. 
My servant walked away after a servile bow, cringing in humility. 

Changing the Word Cringe to Cringey or Cringy

One reason why there’s so much confusion as to whether we should spell it with or without the “e” is that adjectives ending with a long “e” sound more often than not end simply with a “y.” There is no real hard-and-fast grammatical rule for this, and there are many words that end in -ey instead (source).

For example, the noun space becomes spacey. Other examples ending in -ey include the following:

chocolatechocolatey mopemopey
cake cakey whinewhiney
cute cutey gluegluey
price pricey nosenosey
costume costumey dicedicey

Because there is no grammatical rule to guide us, the general advice is to learn the correct spelling if you are regularly using the word. When in doubt, use a good dictionary, such as The Oxford English Dictionary, to guide you. 

Cringey Is a Portmanteau

One possible reason for spelling “cringey” with an -e is the claim that “cringey” is a portmanteau. A portmanteau is a word we form by combining two other words. In this case, “cringey” is the combination of the words “cringe” and “worthy.”

The two words create the more formal word cringeworthy, shortened to less formal “cringey.”

Our everyday conversations are riddled with portmanteaus, so much so that we don’t even realize it. Portmanteaus are often slang words that are a combination of words (source). 

Below are examples of the more popular portmanteaus.

PortmanteauWord Combination
SmogSmoke + Fog
BrunchBreakfast  + Lunch
Listicle List + Article
Mockumentary Mock + Documentary
CosplayCostume + Roleplay  
BollywoodBombay + Hollywood
MotelMotor + Hotel

Cringey, Cringy, and Cringeworthy 

Dating back to the 1970s, the word “cringeworthy” is practically identical in meaning to the less formal “cringey.” Like “cringey,” it also means when something happens to make you feel upset, embarrassed, or awkward enough to make you cringe.

Consider the following examples:

John found the last 15 minutes of the romantic film cringeworthy to the core. 
Some of the class found the project on different types of penguins cringeworthy. 
Gosh, that script was so cringeworthy. 

What Does Cringey Mean? 

“Cringey” is an adjective we use to describe an action that causes someone to experience feelings of loathing or embarrassment, often causing them to wince. This may result from a certain situation, something someone says, or a person’s behavior, as in the following examples:

The joke Peter told at the party was so cringey it created an awkward silence. 
David’s attempts to ask Mary out were cringey at best. 
The cartoons that we used to watch when we were children look so cringey now. 
The puns dad told at dinner every night were cringey and caused us all to groan. 

Although cringe is embedded in the English language, its adjective form “cringey” is relatively new as an informal version of “cringeworthy.”  According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, the first known use of the word “cringey” dates back to 1986, and it has quickly gained popularity since then. 

In very informal situations, it is increasingly common to use the word “cringe” as an adjective instead of “cringey.” For example: 

Gosh, that is so cringe, Timothy. 
Oh my gosh, your outfit is so cringe, Jessica. 
John, your picture is so cringe.

The Meaning of Cringy or Cring-y

Some sources consider “cringy” acceptable, and others do not. For instance, according to Merriam-Webster and Google, “cringy” and “cring-y” are less common spellings, whereas Grammarly’s spell-checker does not recognize “cringy.” 

You will need to consider your audience and whether the setting is informal enough to even use “cringey,” and using “cringy” is perhaps more likely to cause others to pause since it’s the less common variant.

Still, when you use “cringy,” you also communicate to someone that you realize how embarrassing something must feel for them. You recognize the severity of the humiliation the other person feels to the point that you can feel it yourself and cringe as a result. 

Ooh, that last joke at the stand-up comedy night was so cringy. 
I looked at my past Facebook profile pictures; they were really cringy. 
The speech at our prom was so cringy that many of us were trying not to laugh.

The Function of Adjective Suffixes

Adjectives play a vital part in English as essential for descriptive communication, and we use them to describe nouns and pronouns. For example:

Non-descriptive: I saw a bird fly past.
Descriptive: I saw a beautiful yellow bird fly past.

I’m sure you can agree the second sentence brings the subject, the bird, to life. This is the function of adjectives.

Sometimes, we use nouns to describe other nouns, playing the role of an adjective. Take, for example, the word “cricket bat.” Cricket describes the type of bat. In another example, soccer coach, soccer describes the type of coach (source). 

Adjectives have many forms, and we create them by adding adjective suffixes to a verb or noun, such as -able, -ful, -y, -ey, -ile, -less, and -ous. Adding the adjective suffix -y to the end of a word makes it an adjective that describes the noun as characterized by something (source). 

For instance, cringe (noun or verb) becomes an adjective when we add -y at the end. 

More more on the -y suffix, read out article, “Pricey or Pricy: Differences and Usage.”

Synonyms and Antonyms for Cringe and Cringeworthy

A synonym is a phrase or word that is almost identical in meaning to another word. For example, the noun “threat” is a synonym of the noun form of “challenge.” We can use them interchangeably in the proper context.

In contrast, an antonym is a word or phrase that means something completely opposite. For example, the noun “peace” is an antonym of the noun “challenge.” Antonyms show contrast, and we use them to emphasize a point or counter an argument.

Proper synonyms and antonyms must be the same part of speech. For example, cringe is a noun, and cringeworthy is an adjective.

Synonyms and Antonyms of Cringe

Below, we have compiled a list of possible synonyms and antonyms you can use for the word “cringe.” One of the advantages of comparing synonyms and antonyms is that they give you a better feel for each word.

Synonyms Antonyms 
Recoil Defy 
Shrink Challenge
Wince Face 
FlinchConfront
Quail Approach 
BendStretch

Near Synonyms and Antonyms of Cringeworthy

If you’d prefer to use a more formal word than “cringey,” there are adjectives you can use in its place. While you won’t find synonyms and antonyms for cringey and cringeworthy listed in an online thesaurus or dictionary, below you will see a few examples of words that are similar in meaning:

  • Upsetting
  • Embarrassing 
  • Uncomfortable 
  • Painful 
  • Sensitive 
  • Unpleasant 
  • Shameful

The following are synonyms and antonyms for words very close in meaning to “cringeworthy.”

Synonyms Antonyms 
Humiliating Enjoyable
UnpleasingPleasing
Repulsive Satisfying 
Excruciating Soothing
Off-putting Pleasureable 
Awkward Delightful 
EmbarrassingPleasant 

The Popularity of Informal Words

Woman Wearing Teal Dress Sitting on Chair Talking to Man
Image by Jopwell via Pexels

Nowadays, a craze can spread overnight with the help of social media instead of taking weeks or months, or even years, to gain momentum as it did in the past. Thanks to social media, “cringe,” “cringy,” and “cringey” in the place of “cringeworthy” are gaining popularity. 

For better or for worse, these informal words work their way into our everyday speech.

We often use “cringe” and “cringey” jokingly. However, it generally carries negative connotations. We often use both words to scorn or ridicule someone and berate someone or something not up to the current trending standard. This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.

People are often very vocal in expressing their opinions and outspoken about the actions, behavior, and ideas of others. 

Final Thoughts

It is cringeworthy to note that you may have been spelling “cringey” wrong all along. While “cringey” and “cringy” sound the same and have the same meaning, “cringey” is the more widely accepted variant to use. 

The rules surrounding adding the adjective suffix -y are very ambiguous, so you’ll have to remember each variant spelling or consult a reputable dictionary.

The word “cringey” remains a relatively new entry into our dictionaries, but it is also becoming increasingly popular thanks to social media. Still, you’ll need to consider your audience and the context in which you use it, as the word remains informal.

Dr. Patrick Capriola

Dr. Patrick Capriola is the founder of strategiesforparents.com. He is an expert in parenting, social-emotional development, academic growth, dropout prevention, educator professional development, and navigating the school system. He earned his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Florida in 2014. His professional experience includes serving as a classroom teacher, a student behavior specialist, a school administrator, and an educational trainer - providing professional development to school administrators and teachers, helping them learn to meet the academic and social-emotional needs of students. He is focused on growing strategiesforparents.com into a leading source for high-quality research-based content to help parents work through the challenges of raising a family and progressing through the school system.

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