It is all about gestures and not uttering a word.

If you agree, you nod i.e. move your head up and down. But what if you don't agree? Do we have a word to describe the gesture?

In short, what's opposite to 'nodding'?

Actually, the Indian Head Shake is 'YES'; so, getting confused!

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    Watch out if you ever visit Bulgaria, they have it in reverse. – SF. Mar 10 '15 at 10:55
  • Yes @SF. on one level this question is really about culture. In the Arab world you pivot your head up and back one time slightly & quickly to signify no. – user6951 Mar 10 '15 at 11:03
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    @DamkerngT. you cannot challenge me on this! I'm an Indian and in addition, a Gujarati... lol, typically what that page says. I, myself, though involuntarily, do that gesture. haha... – Maulik V Mar 10 '15 at 12:41
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    @MaulikV There is some misunderstanding here, I believe. Please read my comment again. There was no challenging. According to the page I linked to (which is a different page from the one I like to), "Shaking to indicate "no" is widespread, [...] Areas in which head shaking generally takes this meaning include Indian subcontinent, Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia, Europe, South America, North America and Australia." Doesn't that contradict the reality in India, which you mentioned in the question? And since everyone can edit anything on Wikipedia, you might want to consider editing it. – Damkerng T. Mar 10 '15 at 12:55
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    @DamkerngT. You took it too seriously. It was a light comment. – Maulik V Mar 10 '15 at 17:43

You Shake your head.

Not to confuse with banging your hair around to the rhythm of music, or shaking water off your hair, you can add shake your head "no".

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    @DevSolar: Read up the comments under the question. – SF. Mar 10 '15 at 18:29
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    'smh' is a commonly used slang informal acronym denoting 'shaking my head' for when you "find something so stupid, no words can do it justice" (Urban Dictionary). – user26486 Mar 10 '15 at 18:34
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    @DevSolar Shake your head "yes" does exist. It's usually used in the past tense: He shook his head yes. – Millie Smith Mar 10 '15 at 18:52
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    To be honest, "He shook" reads to me as "He shivered" despite all of the context. – Veedrac Mar 10 '15 at 20:56
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    I definitely do not think that to shake one’s head can ever be successfully or clearly abbreviated to to shake. – KRyan Mar 10 '15 at 23:58

That depends on what you mean by don't agree.

If you mean disagree; give a negative response; say no, then you shake your head. This is the opposite of nodding (meaning it gives the opposite response; negative and affirmative, respectively) and different from the Indian head shake. In English, shaking your head means turning it side to side (to the right and left) a few times. It's a rotation around the vertical axis only; the head does not tilt or change its angle relative to the ground (assuming you're standing or sitting straight up). Here's a picture:

enter image description here


From left to right, these are:

  • Shaking your head
  • Indian head shake / head bobble
  • Nodding your head

But, if you mean express that you don't assent or agree but also don't necessarily disagree; are hesitant, unsure, or of no particular opinion, then you shrug. This necessarily involves raising the shoulders, but lifting the arms and/or a certain kind of facial expression are usually also involved. For example, if you're at the cinema with the man pictured below and had just said what do you want to see? XYZ looks really good!, you'd know that he doesn't agree with you, but doesn't particularly object to seeing XYZ either.

enter link description here


One important thing to remember is that nonverbal communication is not necessarily the same across cultures, even when the language of choice is. In some places shaking your head means yes, so the natives there might misunderstand you even if you're having a conversation in fluent English.


You can use "shake".This is not the opposite but you can use it like this.

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    Welcome to ELL! Would you mind expanding your answer a little bit? I might be wrong but this seems just too unexplained and short to be a good ELL-worthy answer. – M.A.R. Mar 10 '15 at 13:39
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    If someone told me to "shake", I would think hand-shake (or perhaps start a synchronized dance routine). Stating in full ("shake your head") would be necessary. – Eric Mar 10 '15 at 15:32

This is a common phenomenon in most languages. It is an 'elliptical' phrase, which is derived from 'ellipsis', not 'squashed circle shape'. It means that part of the phraseology is left unspoken (elided), but the semantic content is 'understood' by the hearer/reader because they are familiar with the usage within that context.

The actual comparison in this instance of the phenomenon should be, "if you agree you 'nod [your head]'; if you disagree, you 'shake your head'. This correctly puts the emphasis on the use of 'nod' and removes it from 'shake'. And that eliminates most of the discussion of cultural and colloquial meanings and focuses attention on language structure, not usage.

If you become sensitive to this phenomenon, you will begin to notice its very ubiquitous influence. Almost every conversation you have will include, and most understandings will often hinge on, differing interpretations of statements in which elliptical phrases are central to the semantics.

It is also the foundation of most advertising slogans and almost all jokes. Which means it also has both visual and conceptual parallels. The basic proposition is that the context of our communication (meaning the conceptual grasp we have of our physical and intellectual environment) is subject to change based on the definitions that participants in a communication impose on the other participants. And it is proof that often the power and influence of a statement is based not on what is said, but what is not said. So a powerful or inspiring statement could build up a motivating context which the hearers might tend to identify with and then some aspect of the context can be left 'open' (the future, the contingencies, the key contribution, the missing link) and each listener then completes their internal context by filling in their personal impression of that unspoken item.

Salvador Dali's 'surrealism' is the most 'graphic' graphic example of the principle: introducing contrasting items will change our perception by altering the context of our internal, mental environment. The image is simply lines, spaces, and paint, but the semantics that Dali introduces forces the viewer to examine the process of how they internally assemble a semantic context of their moment-by-moment experience.

In the same way, a joke sets up a context that seems to mean one thing, but the punchline reveals that the context can and should be interpreted as something else entirely.

So the elliptical phrase is a key part of influencing people since it one of those flexible and malleable (can bend, can BE bent) components in the language capability that underlies all languages and constitutes the underlying logic that humans were given at their creation.

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    As down voted and disregarded this answer is - it truly holds merit and remarkable on its own. It deserves much better and a wider read. – Imago May 23 '17 at 18:28

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