Bershon: A facial expression of distaste, disdain, sulkiness, exasperation, or all four simultaneously. Whatever.
Bershon is observed in its perfected glory in photographs of adolescent girls who, in Michael Bierut's summing-up, appear to be saying, "Will you please just take the stupid picture?" The adult response is, of course, "Would it kill you to smile?" To which the adolescent girl silently replies: Yes. Yes, it would kill me. It would kill me dead on the spot. And then you'd understand. Maybe.
Bershon was immmortalized by writer and blogger Sarah Brown¹, who remembers using the term during her own adolescence. Origin and etymology are unknown; rules of capitalization are flexible; alternate spelling is bershaun. In private e-mail correspondence, Sarah confirmed that the correct pronunciation is BURR-shawn. Bershon is both a noun ("the queen of bershon") and an adjective ("That is so bershon!").
The spirit of bershon is pretty much how you feel when you’re 13 and your parents make you wear a Christmas sweatshirt and then pose for a family picture, and you could not possibly summon one more ounce of disgust, but you’re also way too cool to really even DEAL with it, so you just make this face like you smelled something bad and sort of roll your eyes and seethe in a put-out manner.
Bershon has rules, as outlined by Red Stapler 23:
1. Babies with cranky faces are not Bershon. Bershon implies a certain self-conscious world-hating attitude that only develops with time and hormones. Little kids may appear to be Bershon, but we are projecting.
2. Photos of someone who is kind of uncomfortable but who is about to crack up are not Bershon.
3. People who are just bored are not Bershon.
4. People who are stoic are not Bershon.
5. Old people, in general, are not Bershon, though there may be exceptions.
6. Animals are not Bershon. Animals are animals.²
Book-jacket photographs of authors, observes Michael Bierut, are a good place to witness adult bershon. He adds:
But men — and boys — really don't have what it takes. Their way of dealing with a photograph is to scowl, or make a horrible face. Bershon, ultimately, is a girls' game. For its quintessence, examine one of the most famous examples of all, Robert Frank's photograph "Elevator — Miami Beach," which appears on page 99 of his landmark 1959 book The Americans. The vaguely exasperated look on the operator's face, her eyes just short of rolling, the unspoken message clear as a bell: Lord, get me out of here. Sexy, too. This is what every girl is going for when she goes for bershon.
¹Sarah Brown is also the creator and host of Cringe, a monthly reading series in Brooklyn in which "brave souls come forward and read aloud from their teenage diaries, journals, notes, letters, poems, abandoned rock operas, and other general representations of the crushing misery of their humiliating adolescence."
²Possible exception: William Wegman's Weimaraners.