laugh or cry, don't know whether to

not know whether to laugh or (to) cry

To be in an acute state of shock, exasperation, or disbelief due to an unexpected tragic or unfortunate event. When the team lost the championship in the final seconds of the game, we didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. I just found out all of my applications were rejected. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
See also: cry, know, laugh, not, to
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

laugh or cry, don't know whether to

I am amused and upset at the same time. This expression is a modern version of several much earlier sayings. Chaucer wrote, “She ys fals [is false]; and ever laughynge, with oon eye, and that other wepynge,” indicating more hypocrisy rather than being torn by conflicting feelings. This version became a proverb, “Cry with one eye and laugh with the other” (in Ray’s 1678 and Fuller’s 1732 collections). Another version, “to laugh and cry both with a breath”—that is, to laugh and cry at the same time—was so put by Shakespeare (in Venus and Adonis) and also recorded in the above-named proverb collections. The modern cliché dates from the nineteenth century.
See also: know, laugh, to
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
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