The word cringe has been around for a while. The first modern use of the noun was in the 1570s and, as a verb, in the thirteenth century, but it had a lot of different definitions and spellings before that. Throughout Middle and Old English, it was attested as crinchen, crenchen, crengen, crencan, crencgan, crengan, and crenge, and meant "bend", "bow", "turn", and "cause to fall". It traces to the Proto-Germanic reconstruction kenk, or "curl up", and ultimately derives from Proto-Indo-European greng, "to turn". Recently, cringe has been adopted in meme culture to indicate disgust toward something, usually a fandom of some sort. This shift began in 2013, and has resulted in both renewed usage of the word in literature over time and increased Google search frequency for it.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a sophomore studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, and law.