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I need to describe a person in the sitting posture shown in the image. Is there a name or expression to describe this posture other than "sitting in foetal position"?

enter image description here

I appreciate any assistance you can provide.

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  • To the experienced users: Is this a what-to-write question?
    – Ben
    Oct 3, 2023 at 9:13

4 Answers 4

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The person is "sitting with their legs drawn up in front of them". Variations are "...drawn up towards their body" (or "the body", if you describe a dead person, e.g. in archaeology), "...drawn up against their stomach", "...to their chest" etc.

As this is the most common way for people to sit on the floor, it is more common to write that they are "sitting on the ground" (if it is outside) or "sitting on the floor" (if it is inside a building). Readers will automatically imagine this posture, unless you describe them sitting in another way (e.g. legs crossed or legs tucked under themselves). A Google Image search for "sitting on the floor" shows the common visualisation of that phrase. You can also specify the surface by using "on the grass" or "in the dirt" or "on the carpet" instead of ground or floor.

You should only use "sitting with their legs drawn up in front of them" if the person is not sitting on the floor (e.g. on a bed or chair, where you would usually sit in a different position) and/or the posture expresses a certain emotion (e.g. feeling scared and protecting themselves behind their legs or feeling sad and curling in on themselves). Otherwise your description will feel stilted and unnecessarily overdetailed.

Google Ngram Viewer shows how exceedingly rare the phrase "sitting with * legs drawn" is compared to "sitting on the floor":

enter image description here

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  • This doesn't address the question, which asks about the posture, not the location.
    – Chenmunka
    Oct 3, 2023 at 7:31
  • @Chenmunka I edited my question.
    – Ben
    Oct 3, 2023 at 7:57
  • You might sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you (though it's uncomfortable to do so for long without something to support your back). "Sitting with his/her legs/knees drawn up" seems fine to me. Oct 3, 2023 at 8:13
  • @KateBunting If you do an image search for "sitting on the floor" the vast majority of images you get are of people sitting in this or a similar position. So that is what that phrase commonly means. If you want readers to visualize someone sitting another way on the floor, you would most commonly describe that specific pose. I intentionally provided the link to the Google Image Search in my answer to verify that I was correct in my assessment of the meaning of "sitting on the floor". If you think that phrase means something else, please provide a counterproof. Simply posting a claim is cheap.
    – Ben
    Oct 3, 2023 at 8:18
  • @KateBunting "You might sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you (though it's uncomfortable to do so for long ... )." Yes, you might. But the very fact that this is quite uncomfortable is why most people will not think of someone sitting with their legs stretched out if they read "sitting on the floor". They will always think of the pose that they or most people would use most of the time. And that is the pose in OP's question. Compare this to "sitting on a chair". Would you specify the pose if it is the usual one? No. In fact it would seem strange if you did.
    – Ben
    Oct 3, 2023 at 8:20
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A description that includes the setting will give the clearest idea. Here's an example of that posture occurring in fiction:

"In the dim wet oven of the Huey's troop compartment, the corporal sat on a flak jacket behind the sweat-stained backs of First Squad. Simms, the big machine gunner for Fire Team 2, leaned back against him, jamming the corporal's knees right up to his chest and pressing him and the radio on his back against the rear bulkhead."

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Probably Doesn't Matter

If you're struggling to describe someone's posture, you may be focusing too much on the "what" and not enough on the "why."

She sat with childlike innocence, surrounded by the bright yellow flowers of the dandelions she had picked, and smiled cheerfully when her friends approached.

Or

She huddled in on herself, rocking quietly. The sobs racked her tiny frame, and despair filled the room.

Either of these cases could be:

She sat with her knees drawn up into her chest.

But the description of exactly how she's sitting is much less important than the emotion you are trying to evoke with her posture. So describe the emotion, and the reader will fill in the body position.

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I’d anticipate there is a word for that posture. English has words like Defenestrate and Borborygmus. But you can anticipate that your readers won’t understand it.

If the POV character is sitting like that, then you can use the emotional and physical sensations to help establish the scene — how their rump or lower back hurts, or how their wicked aunt to them not to slouch like that.

If the POV character is seeing someone in that position, share their reaction — do they look weak or frightened or vulnerable, those kinds of reactions filtered through the POV character can amplify a simple descriptive like ‘legs curled to chest’ since it can invoke our own emotions as an extension of the POV character.

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