'Shrugging' is a gesture we make with our shoulders. Now I'm not strictly looking for synonyms of the actual gesture of shoulder shrugging, but rather words that convey the same emotion as when someone shrugs. Ideally, I'm looking for a verb.

I recognize there are many reasons to shrug: 2 main reasons being to say 'whatever' or to say 'I don't know'. I'm actually looking for both interpretations (it doesn't have to be one term for both). Again, I'm looking for synonyms for the meaning of the gesture.

  • It's really unclear what you're asking for. You say you're not looking for synonyms, but then you say you are "looking for synonyms for the gesture or conveyance of it" You also say you want a verb but ask for "the emotion that is conveyed" (a noun).
    – Jim
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 5:57
  • 2
    ambivalence, apathy, indifference, resignation... all nouns.
    – Jim
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 5:58
  • "To convey the message 'I don't know'" is a definition for shrugging, right? I'm looking for other words that mean the same thing.
    – OscarE
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 6:14
  • I edited it to hopefully make it clearer.
    – OscarE
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 6:18
  • Edited to make it even clearer for potential answerers. Please re-edit if I've gotten your intent wrong. Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 7:19

3 Answers 3


The phrase "verbal shrug" is pretty popular and well established:

Google nGram chart of "verbal shrug" rising steadily in recent decades

In literature, it's often used to describe a sound a speaker has just made, or an emotion captured by his body language, without explicitly identifying the "shrug" in question. So it may be that this set phrase is used precisely because English lacks an established word or term which expresses what a shrug expresses.

I dunno.

The Italians are ahead of us on this one. Boh.

  • While the meaning is obvious, I have literally never hear of such an expression.
    – aaa90210
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 9:29
  • 2
    After reading your comment, just for kicks, I decided to compare how common verbal shrug is vs literally never heard.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 9:33

'Dismissive' springs to mind...


For the meaning of "I don't know", I can think of a few adjectives, but the only verb (phrase) I can think of is to plead ignorance, which is to indicate that one does not know, which is what shrugging means in that context:

Whenever Mary asked him which dress was more appropriate for their outing, John would routinely plead ignorance, shrugging silently as she frowned at him in annoyance.

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