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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.]

  • 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, 2011 at 22:52
  • @The Raven: legs akimbo is a phrase I have heard fairly often. I've not thought of it applying to arms May 21, 2011 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, 2011 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, 2011 at 4:15
  • How curious. "Legs akimbo" must be a UK-ism.
    – The Raven
    May 22, 2011 at 12:50

4 Answers 4


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.)

  • Is there any special differences between your answer and mine? except long explanation, actually.
    – user8568
    May 21, 2011 at 23:25
  • 1
    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, 2011 at 8:54
  • 2
    @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, 2011 at 9:08
  • 1
    the OED does have some other body part references such as a shrug of the hand "And with my hand will give a shrug or two." ~1653 Oct 8, 2014 at 2:09
  • 1
    @TheRaven: Surely you mean vim and emacs. (Anyway, it's vim and vigor.)
    – Drew
    Oct 8, 2014 at 3:28

According to Google Ngram, men are shrugging their broad, heavy, great shoulders less and less.

But before that, let's see what men and women shrug most often according to Google Books.

For men I entered the expression shrugged his *. The asterisk symbol which follows will display the first word that comes after the pronoun his. Note that it is superfluous and counterproductive to search for "he shrugged his" because the possessive pronoun already tells us the subject is male and moreover you would ignore the innumerable instances where a proper noun or noun phrase would be used, for example "Daniel shrugged his", "Her husband shrugged his" etc.

enter image description here

For women I repeated the same operation

enter image description here

Interestingly, people tend to shrug off females i.e. shrugged her off. I went back to my first Ngram and repeated the experiment with shrugged him * The following results were: shrugged him off, shrugged him away, shrugged him aside

For the feminine Ngram chart I wondered if a woman might shrug her pretty hips, finger, eyes or eyebrows. I entered the terms: shrugged her shoulders, shrugged her pretty *, shrugged her thin *, shrugged her plump *, shrugged her white *

The results proved conclusively that shoulders is the only part of the human body associated with the verb, shrug.

In the following "masculine" Google Ngram Viewer I added the terms: shrugged his heavy *, shrugged his great *, shrugged his thin *, he shrugged his broad *, he shrugged his shoulders, and shrugged his shoulder. Once again the asterisk substitutes the first word that follows

enter image description here

Men only shrug their great or massive shoulders, I was hoping for something a little more titillating. You may have noticed that I forgot to add he shrugged his massive * but if you don't believe men have massive shoulders, do the operation yourselves...

Oh, all right. I'll do it myself

enter image description here

Unsurprisingly, the adjective broad is most commonly associated with male shoulders, but what I do find peculiar is the drop in the number of times men shrug their shoulders (see the penultimate chart), apparently there was an impressive peak in the 1930s followed by a steady decline. I wonder why?

Is there anything else that can be shrugged, besides shoulders?

Yes! You can also shrug these things off

I Googled "shrugged off the" in Google Books and found...

shrugged off the news, leaflets, meaning of, notion, denial, sand, role, injury, idea, arm, past, loss, signals, irritation, annoying sth, blazer, Nazi's, thought, problems, crazy things, worry, traps, overcoat, indifference, eerie sensation, backpack, criticism, belt, ugly memory, prospect, nervousness, crash, police assault, comments, comparisons, feelings of guilt, yoke, gratitude, efforts, question, bad news, phenomenon, complaints, fraternal hand, encounter, feeling of impending doom, report, deal, treason accusation, feeling in disbelief, dream, coat, lifelong sacrifice, offending limb, snide remark, London damp, incident, possibility, knapsack, man's hands, fact, cool chill, shawl, gloomy mood, frontier town mentality, pain, daily calls, feeling of apprehension, suggestion, analysis, prudish atmosphere, stories, feeling of being watched, threat, blouse, burden, suit jacket, apathy, pack, horrendous accident, wealth and power, results, girl's embrace, punishment, consequences, hood of the anorak, cold, self-pity, first signs of, advice, doubters and the snipers, slight, pressure, hands that attempted to grab him, accoutrements of their past, stigma, snub, environmental costs, cares of the world, attacks, charge, tendency, first frost, abuse, compliment, request, hurt, negativity, blankets, effects of the weed, wasted emotion, guy's hand, darkness, failure; Chinese, the Mongols, and Siamese; mantle of religion, thefts, warnings, whole business, economic and social problems, letter, old man, reprimand, critique, shackles of traditional morality, lack of popularity, blows, conflict, cape, announcement, yellow jacket, duty, camisole of Marxism, tremor of excitement, sleaziness swirling about him, stick as he had shrugged off the carrot.; deepening suspicion, happy memory of that episode, etc...

I stopped at page forty, but as you can see there are many other things besides shoulders which can be shrugged off, and one of them being hands.

  • 1
    Great revival of a three-year old question. Love the detail.
    – teylyn
    Oct 8, 2014 at 8:42
  • 1
    I wonder why? -- they probably grew eyebrows and are now shrugging these!
    – teylyn
    Oct 8, 2014 at 8:44
  • Like the first half, but for the second: " I'm aware of constructs like "He shrugged it off." but that's not what I'm interested in, " May 28, 2015 at 11:09
  • @TimLymington I'm sorry, but could you clarify a little more. Like as in "I like" or "as" and I don't understand the point you're making with but for the second. Sorry, if I sound dim. Note, that this answer was written last year.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 28, 2015 at 11:13
  • Sorry I was too elliptical. The first half of the answer is good enough to upvote, but the hard work you put into investigating shrugged off is something OP explicitly did not want. May 28, 2015 at 11:58

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.


I believe we say this man is shrugging his hands, even if he does not move his shoulders when he does it...


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