A captioned photo by David J. Riviera, passed on by several people on Facebook:
From the Wikipedia entry:
A facepalm (sometimes also face-palm or face palm) is the physical gesture of placing one’s hand flat across one’s face or lowering one’s face into one’s hand or hands. The gesture is found in many cultures as a display of frustration, embarrassment, shock, or surprise.
The gesture is very old, but the name is apparently pretty new. Facepalm is not in the OED, NOAD, or AHD, in Grant Barrett’s Double-Tongued Dictionary, or on Evan Morris’s Word Detective site. Of course it’s in the Urban Dictionary, where the earliest entry is from 2004, and where it can clearly be seen to have “taken off” in 2009. Wordnik’s entry has cites back only to 2009, and Michael Quinion noted the expression in December 2010. But the on-line Macmillan Dictionary has a nice piece on it (from 7/4/11), including a note on its use as a written representation of the gesture (as in *facepalm* or <facepalm>), as well as as a noun denoting the gesture:
Facepalm first appeared about five years ago, and has steadily gained ground as a popular term in Internet culture, galvanized by its status as an Internet meme (an idea that spreads very quickly via the Internet). One of the most popular facepalm images circulating the Web is of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, a character in the Star Trek Next Generation TV series, clutching his face in disbelief.
The word itself is most common in online discourse, where, much like LOL (an abbreviation for laughing out loud) it represents a conversational gesture or facial expression, effectively expressing a ‘non-verbal’ gesture in a ‘verbal’ way.
That is, in fact, the use of the word in the earliest citation (2001) for facepalm in Paul McFedries’s Word Spy entry (of 12/3/09), where it’s associated with the Simpsonsism doh!:
<facepalm>doh!</facepalm> —noaustin, “Buat yg suka komik Conan, Kindaichi, Harlem Beat, en sylphid,” Forum KG, January 28, 2001
Noun uses in newspapers from McFedries:
For the previous 24 hours Deena Pantalone had been the target of a vicious online smear campaign among the city’s fashion community — vilified for telling a Toronto Life reporter the candy-red cocktail dress she was wearing at last week’s Butterfly Ball was vintage, when in fact it had been created by a local designer. … Others saw the humour in the gaffe. “Oh the facepalms,” said Shannon. —David Graham, “The embarrassing case of the little red dress,” The Toronto Star, May 29, 2009
Surrounded by mini-skirted dancers and wearing bad suits, the Grimes boys performed literal interpretations of the lyrics, just as Pan’s People used to do decades ago on Top of the Pops. It was funny, sweet and the ultimate “facepalm” experience, and they received the biggest share of the public vote on the night. —Sinéad Gleeson, “The public’s guilty pleasure,” Irish Times, October 31, 2009
2009 seems to have been a watershed year for facepalm.