Here is the definition:

to wave off

  1. To dismiss or refuse by waving the hand or arm: waved off his invitation to join the group.

But can "wave off" also be used for this enter image description here

gesture, communicating a "whatever" with a sprinkle of "oh, come on!" or an "oh, f*** you..."?

Are there any other/more specific verbs for this gesture? Or does "wave off" get the message across just fine?

  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth there are both transitive and intransitive entries for the verb "wave", but the phrasal verb "wave off" only has two definitions (not stated to be either tr. or intr.), one of which is a sports term
    – dee
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 16:59
  • 3
    Understand that a notable use of the expression "wave off" is when the "flagman" on an aircraft carrier signals an approaching aircraft to abort its landing.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 17:32
  • 3
    In the UK "waving off" is mostly used to describe the process of waving to someone who is leaving. For instance guests leaving and the hosts "waving them off" as their car disappears down the road.
    – BoldBen
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 17:36
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth In its own distinct military manner (ie "the right way, the wrong way, and the Navy way)...."effect a wave-off" is often seen. Civilians call it a "go around". ..but also heard is "Wave off!" as an imperative. Nowadays the signal is part of a type of light called the OLS, and positioned at the stern of the carrier. Flashing red lamps are called "wave-off" lights, and the command is mandatory. Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 21:17
  • 3
    ...the image of a "flagman" ( i.e. LSO) standing on a carrier frantically flinging paddles about trying to "wave off" approaching aircraft during a landing at sea...well that is probably pre-Vietnam War era Hollywood. . No "deck ape" that values his head and torso will willingly stand near that area. There is a box, in which the LSO holds a pickle controlling the OLS. It's not "Ok fellows, let's wave off that airplane". It's "Wave off! Wave off!" Intransitive. Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 22:58

3 Answers 3


No, I don't think it is.

My dad does that exact gesture a lot. It's not dismissing the other person. It's not dismissing what they're saying. Rather, it's acquiescing.

Dismissiveness is rejecting someone or something, essentially saying, "I'm no longer going to consider this or you. You can forget about me ever letting that stand. Now go away."

However, what that gesture is conveying is the opposite of dismissiveness because it's a reluctant agreement, not a rejection. It's saying, "Whatever. Go ahead. Now I'm done with this and you. So I'm going." That's why it's always accompanied by the person doing the gesture walking away or at least starting to walk away. Whomever is on the receiving end of that gesture isn't being dismissed nor is what they're saying, but instead, they themselves remain where they are and what they say is being allowed to stand.

The wave-off gesture refuses someone and at the same time implicitly tells them "you're dismissed," which is another way of saying "go away now," like in the military. There are two different versions of it:

  1. The gesture where someone flicks the back of their hand at you, like they're shooing you away. That's dismissive. You reject the other person and reject what they're saying, so you keep your ground and give a dismissive wave of the hand that indicates that they are to leave you, which is the exact opposite of acquiescing and walking away yourself.

  2. The gesture that looks exactly like waving goodbye, except that it's accompanied by a smile that is meant to appear fake and an obvious refusal to listen to anymore. In recent times, this gesture has often been accompanied by the words "Bye, Felicia!" to affirmatively dismiss someone from the one's presence.

Anyway, what you see there in that video clip, that's displeasure, frustration, frustration from having to acquiesce because of not being able to get the receiver of the gesture to back down, frustration from not being successful in dismissing that person or what they're saying.

  • so what's your verb suggestion then?
    – dee
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 20:48
  • I don't know that there is a verb for that. In my situation, as that's how my dad always, always gives permission for anything, my brothers and sisters and I call that his "whatever wave," but "whatever" has become the name of a different gesture where you hold up three fingers that kind of means the same thing. Since people have come along and commandeered our name for it and since whenever my dad does that, he always mumbles out a somewhat grouchy "I guess," never a "yes," maybe we should call it an "I-guess wave." As a verb, we might say, "He 'I-guess' waved me, so we're good to go." Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 21:24
  • What I read in your explanation few across as "dismissive". The situations you've explained are all dismissive, but being dismissive does not always have to be of another party. You might be agreeing with them, but you are simply dismissing the argument you have made. "Fine, I was wrong; let's go."
    – Ben
    Commented Sep 7, 2019 at 4:48

The example you show would be better called a dismissive wave or a dismissive wave off This citation favors the former merriam-webster

Definition of dismissive:

  • serving to dismiss or reject someone or something : having or showing a disdainful attitude toward someone or something regarded as unworthy of serious attention.

  • As in:

  • He responded to the question with a dismissive wave.

A wave off is neutral in refusing help. A dismissive wave or even a dismissive wave off adds the pejorative sense.


Rejection and negation are basal concepts in communication theory. (Ref: Marshall MacCluhan, The Medium is the Message, 1968) To “wave off” indicates rejection and / or negation of a conveyed position, idea or comparative status. The subtext of this may be serious or it may be in jest, further subtexted by possible ironical or other nuanced intent. Nevertheless, the core dynamic is that of rejection, with the communication payload being understood by the context of the relationship between the communicating parties.

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