The English Dialect Dictionary, compiled by Joseph Wright, defines the word gurn as 'to snarl as a dog; to look savage; to distort the countenance', while the Oxford English Dictionary suggests the derivation may originally be Scottish, related to 'grin'. In Northern Ireland the verb 'gurn' means, 'to cry', hence crying in Northern Ireland is often called gurnin.
The term is also used to describe the facial expressions of people under the influence of the drug ecstasy and other stimulants. Sufferers often complain of 'hamster cheeks' and 'Forsyth chin'. The following day is especially uncomfortable - chewing becomes difficult and even speaking is a chore.
Gurning contests are a rural English tradition and were once common at travelling sideshows, fairs and freak shows. They are still held regularly in some villages , and the contestants traditionally frame their faces through a horse collar - known as 'gurnin' through a braffin'. The World Gurning Championship is held annually in Egremont, Cumbria as one part of the Egremont Crab Fair. Those with the greatest gurn capabilities are often those with no teeth, as this provides greater room to move the jaw further up. In some cases the elderly or otherwise toothless can be capable of spectacular gurns covering the entire nose.
In Australia the most common form of gurning is the "duck face", with many areas holding local annual competitions for this form of facial expression. The "duck face" has been brought into mainstream culture by such people as TV's Kath and Kim, and is characterised by pursed lips and raised eyebrows.