1570s, "to bend or crouch, especially with servility or fear," variant of crenge, crenche "to bend" (c. 1200), from causative of Old English cringan "yield, give way, fall (in battle); become bent," from Proto-Germanic *krank- "bend, curl up" (source also of Old Norse kringr, Dutch kring, German Kring "circle, ring"). Related: Cringed; cringing. As a noun from 1590s. Cringe-worthy (adj.) is attested by 1990.