Time magazine’s photos of Paul Ryan pumping iron in a T-shirt have swept across the Internet today, and while his sinewy muscles are the spread’s star attraction, we’d like to note another feature: his weight-lifting face. It’s an expression of calm concentration — he’s not showing too much exertion (that would by wussy and/or provide further opportunities for fart jokes, which Romney’s campaign really doesn’t need), nor is he smiling (grinning weightlifters are decidedly not trustworthy). Instead, he’s pursing his lips into a sort of frown-smile, a humble everyman look that can mean everything from “what shall I order for lunch” to “stop clapping so I can talk” or “big-government economics breeds crony capitalism.”
This expression, which in Ryan’s case we’ll call the “Smaul Fryan” (that’s “smile” and “frown” combined with his name, duh), is familiar for a number of reasons: (1) Your dad makes it. (2) Ryan has made it constantly throughout the campaign. (3) You might even make it yourself — it’s not hard, you just smush your lips together, like you’re trying to maximize contact between your gums and your front teeth. It’s easy to see why this is Ryan’s default arrangement of facial muscles: It’s the perfect look for serious situations where you need to react, but you’re not sure exactly what kind of emotion to express. Think of it as a facial Rorschach blot onto which people can project whatever they want him to be thinking. Chances are we’ll be seeing a lot of it tonight during his debate with Joe Biden. Learn the many iterations of the Smaul Fryan in our slideshow.