If somebody asks a question and you have no answer for it, then you can shrug your shoulders and move your hands up (with the palms of your hands turned to the sky).

Is there a word for what you do with your hands? It seems like an apologizing gesture people often do.

  • Being French (or pretending to be). Apr 2 '17 at 10:47
  • If the arms are raised above the waist, you can say "hands up" but there's no shrug, and it's typically a gesture of remission.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 2 '17 at 15:46

See this slideshow at slideshare.net, go to slide 16.

It is still called a shoulder shrug.

Also see [a visual aid here2.

  • Are there other kinds of shrugs, those that are not about the shoulders?
    – Mitch
    Apr 2 '17 at 15:33
  • 1
    Hey there @Mitch. I was almost sure but what made confident was this: english.stackexchange.com/questions/26439/…
    – vickyace
    Apr 2 '17 at 15:37
  • 2
    Sure, the usual thing to say is "he shrugged his shoulders" ('he shrugged' is just as good). But 'he gave a shoulder shrug' sounds really weird; just say 'he gave a shrug'.
    – Mitch
    Apr 2 '17 at 16:00
  • It is equal to "washing your hands of sth/sb", i.e. denying taking any responsibility and accountability(often demonstrated by collegues/leaders/supervisors towards their sub-ordinates/co-collegues) which is negative action/behaviour, but in genuine cases(when you wish to help but actually don't know anything about topic in discussion) it's valid. Note: Being deliberately non-responsive, for reasonably long-time, towards any question is also equal to shoulder shrug, as it entails and demonstrates same behaviour, only covertly and without any physical movement.
    – Vicky Dev
    Dec 16 '20 at 19:21

I can't find any reference with more authority but the Urban Dictionary has this definition of the Gallic Shrug which is the term I know

The "Gallic shrug" gesture has a number of meanings:

It's not my fault

I don't know

I doubt it can be done

I don't really agree

Raise your shoulders; hold up your hands, palms out; stick out your lower lip; raise your eyebrows; and say "Moi, je n'y peux rien," "Moi, je n'en sais rien," "Alors là," or simply "Bof !"


I have seen this described in a Rex Stout book as

He turned a palm up.

You could combine this with the shrug, for example:

He shrugged, palms up. (Or: palms facing up)


The action as described in the question is more of a "raise the roof". (celebratory)

An apology shrug is: hands up in front of the shoulders,palms outward,fingers pointing straight up. There is no name for this... Hence, we have the gesture. This same gesture with the hands extended at forearm length is: "Back-off" (This is common enough to be described as "the signal to 'back-off'".)

Another apology shrug (with an implied "But,it wasn't my fault"): palms up -just above the shoulders,fingers tilted back.

A shrug with the palms out, arms held close to the body,fingers spread downward and outward, implies: "What's up?" or, "What happened?".

A shrug with the palms up, forearms extended to the sides, fingers spread wide and upward, signifies: "What the hell?!"

(Empirical evidence only) (US)

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