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If I step into a restaurant and notice that someone I know is sitting at the far end of it, do I nod "at" or "to" her as if to say "hi"?

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Either can be used. For a brief greeting "at" is more usual: "I nodded at John as a passed him in the hall." But one might also write "A gave a nod to Susan as she came in; I hadn't seen her for several weeks."

The "nod to" usage used to be more common, it was the usual form in 19th century writing if I am not mistaken. It is now a bit more formal in tone.

The metaphorical use of "nod" in the sentence "The blurry brush strokes in the painting are a nod to Monet." (from the answer by MeltingDog) is derived from the use of "nod to" to mean a greeting. The artist is metaphorically thought of as greeting or acknowledging Monet. But like many metaphorical uses, the connection to the original meaning is often forgotten or ignored.

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You'd nod at them.

There is a phrase "A nod to [name]" but that usually means you're making a tribute to them. Eg: "The blurry brush strokes in the painting are a nod to Monet."

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