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He shrugged.


He shrugged his shoulders.

Is there anything else that can be shrugged, besides shoulders? To me it sounds like duplication when used in this way. I'm aware of constructs like "He shrugged it off." but that's not what I'm interested in, and it also implies the use of shoulders, doesn't it?

So why the need to specify the shoulders as an object?

[edit: I also find "he shrugged his eyebrows" but that's rather rare.]

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Usually, the verb with eyebrows is: "knitted." I'm giving this question a +1 because it's a good one. In running text, I can imagine writing something like, "I don't know," he shrugged. It does seem slightly redundant to specify shoulder movement because shrugging only involves shoulders, just as "akimbo" only applies to arm position. Then there's the "Gallic Shrug": blip.tv/jeffrey-taylors-vlog/how-to-gallic-shrug-499784 –  The Raven May 21 '11 at 22:52
@The Raven: legs akimbo is a phrase I have heard fairly often. I've not thought of it applying to arms –  Matt Эллен May 21 '11 at 23:14
@Matt, @The Raven: google ngrams confirms that arms akimbo is older and still much more common, but that legs akimbo is becoming less unusual, especially in BrE. –  PLL May 21 '11 at 23:18
Interesting question. I've heard of a mouth shrug, the somewhat frowny lip-pursing business that frequently accompanies a shrug of the shoulderly variety. And if somebody pleasant but inconvenient (such as a cat or a lover) were sitting on my lap, I wouldn't have a problem shrugging them off. –  Jon Purdy May 22 '11 at 4:15
How curious. "Legs akimbo" must be a UK-ism. –  The Raven May 22 '11 at 12:50

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Browsing through COHA and Google Books, I can’t find any body parts that can be shrugged apart from shoulders. In any case, the intransitive use — she shrugged etc. — is certainly always understood as the shoulder-gesture — it is, as you say, essentially redundant.

So shrugged is very nearly a stormy petrel. The only other thing you can do with it (that I can think of or find in the dictionary) is to shrug something off.

(If anyone at a subscribed university or library is reading, by the way, the OED online would be my best bet to look for other usages — their historical quotations will hopefully show how it came to be used this way. Unfortunately I’m currently travelling and so without access. Also, a clever COHA search would probably be able to automatically look there for instances of anything non-shouldery being shrugged, more thoroughly than I could browse.)

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Is there any special differences between your answer and mine? except long explanation, actually. –  user8568 May 21 '11 at 23:25
That stormy petrel thing is bizarre. I have seen many petrels, but no stormy petrels yet, so to me that term could only refer to a subset of a small bird family:-) And @boob - in context I have to imagine you have blue feet:-) –  Rory Alsop May 22 '11 at 8:54
@Jon: Um, yes my feet sometimes go Blue! :/ –  user8568 May 22 '11 at 9:00
@Rory: Yes — whoever coined the term stormy petrel for this phenomenon clearly wasn’t a birdwatcher! I quite like the term nonetheless. –  PLL May 22 '11 at 9:08
@Boob: well, we both agree that the basic answer is “yes”, but beyond that our answers seem quite different to me! You gave a nice ngrams search for comparative and historical data on the main usages; I took a different approach and went looking for minority uses, and pointed out the relevant stormy petrel concept. –  PLL May 22 '11 at 9:11

Yes, it does and as far as shrug is performed by lifting both shoulders up, so i think there's no need to say shoulders.

Also, Google Ngram shows that the usage without "shoulder" is more common.

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