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for the first time, I read something using the 2 words "nodded abstractly". I Google it. People use it quiet often...

I read it there:

“Welcome aboard,” said Justin, one of the programmers. He stood up and grabbed a rubber chicken from a nearby desk. “Kevin and I are going to integrate our changes now,” he announced to the rest of the group. A few people nodded abstractly, already intent on their work.

My question is, how can a person nod abstractly or in an abstract way...?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

One of the meanings of "abstract" given in the OED (though marked as "archaic") is:

  1. Withdrawn from the contemplation of present objects; = abstracted adj. 2. arch.

That is how I would understand "nodded abstractly" - "nodded as though with his mind on other things".

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+1 I think it is basically a writer who omitted -ed from abstractedly, which would be what he intended here. That is different from distractedly, as some of the others say. – Cerberus May 8 '11 at 0:43
@Cerberus: That's what I think. You should add that as an answer, because I was just about to do that until I saw your comment. – Robusto May 8 '11 at 3:13
@Robusto: Hmm okay, I suppose that is better. I was lazy. Done. – Cerberus May 8 '11 at 3:45
thanks a lot. good answer with good comment~ – draw May 8 '11 at 4:50

As Colin quoted, the use of abstractly in the sense "absent-mindedly" is now archaic—I don't remember ever seeing it. Such an archaic word would not fit the rest of the text. It is most likely that this writer intended abstractedly, which means the same and is in current use.

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Distractedly might be what they mean.

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The adjective abstract is defined here as:

5. Impersonal, as in attitude or views

An Ngram shows that nod abstractly and nodding abstractly seem to never be used, and nodded abstractly only began to be used recently (a little in the 1930's and increasingly in the 1980's and 1990's). I agree that it probably derives from mistaking the word with distractedly.

Given all of that, I expect it would refer to an impersonal nod, a simple acknowledgement of another.

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I did a quick Google and most of the instances of this I found were in fan fictions and amateur short stories. I'm not sure it's a proper turn of phrase, probably someone misheard Nodded Distractedly and got it wrong.

It just doesn't make sense...

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I've seen it written as someone nodded 'absently','perfunctorily' or 'distractedly' but never 'abstractly'.

Like the others noted, it suggests impersonality, distractedness. Basically someone's nodding at you, but not necessarily paying attention to what you've been saying.

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