To Shake or not to Shake

I have been reading just about my entire life. From the beginning of my reading prowess, I learned that you shake your head to indicate a negative or disagreement. While you nod your head in acknowledgement or affirmation.

This all seems cut and dry.

However, in the last couple of years, I have been seeing writers write, and hearing people say, “shake his head yes.” If I shake my head at you, it will not be to say yes. I am telling you no! I will nod my head when I am saying yes.

I wondered if maybe nodding your head was a regional thing, so I looked up the definition of nod.



: to move your head up and down as a way of answering “yes” or of showing agreement, understanding, or approval

: to move your head up and down as a signal to someone or as a way of saying hello or goodbye to someone

: to slightly move your head in a specified direction

Well, that definitely takes the regional possibility off the table. I just heard the expression shake your head yes this morning. It is the most common place I hear it, a morning show I listen to, as I get ready for work, and drive in.

“Ross is shaking his head. Why, are you shaking your head Ross?”

I am thinking that Ross will come on the mic, and respond to the topic at hand with a negative.

“Oh, he is saying that we are right, that it is 27 degrees outside.”

There I sit, in a state of utter confusion.

However, before you say, “Ah, it’s just a bunch of radio jocks.” I read an erotic fiction trilogy not that long ago. No, it wasn’t 50 Shade of Gray. The author several times throughout the trilogy used some version of, “shook his head yes”.

You would think an author would know the difference between shake and nod. As I said in the beginning, my knowledge of the difference goes back to before my first fine white facial hair. I read a lot, and there was clear distinction in literary lingo between yes and no.

We do not need, “shook his head yes”, we have nod!

Jack asked Lynne, “Are you sure this is the end?”

Lynne glared at Jack, eyes glistening, her heart telling her to say no, but almost imperceptibly, she nodded, turned, and walked out of Jacks life.

Could that be clearer?

Now with shook.

Lynne glared at Jack, eyes glistening, her heart telling her to say no, but almost imperceptibly, she shook her head yes, turned, and walked out of Jacks life.

It’s your call, but I like the use of the work nod. Simple, elegant, and less wordy. The language is taking a beating from texting and other forms of rapid communication. Hack writers like myself may not be helping, but let’s not lose little words with big meanings. There is enough abbreviation going on.

Nod if you agree.

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