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cringe (verb) shrink or crouch (in fear); feel embarrassed.
When someone cringes they draw back or bend low, so as to avoid a blow or an attack, or in mere fear at the sight of something or somebody. When you think someone is about to hit you, you move back or away to avoid the hit. You shrink in fear. Then you cringe. A dog cringes at the sight of its master holding a stick. You cringe when you are embarrassed about a thing you have done, which in your opinion is stupid. 'He cringes whenever people refer to his performance in the play.' This means that he is embarrassed about it and it is a performance he most likes to forget.
- She often cringes at the sight of her boss, even to talk to whom she is afraid, because she is not able to learn her job fast, while her boss insists on her doing things right the first time.
- Cowed and coaxed, the tiger in the circus show cringed at the sight of the ringmaster holding a whip and obeyed his instructions, and did all his commands, though snarling all the time.