shake one's head

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shake one's head (third-person singular simple present shakes one's head, present participle shaking one's head, simple past shook one's head, past participle shaken one's head)

  1. To move one's head from side to side, in a repeated swiveling motion from the neck, to indicate disagreement, negation, disbelief, disapproval or dismay.
    • 1826, James Fenimore Cooper, chapter 4, in The Last of the Mohicans:
      "An Indian lost in the woods!" said the scout, shaking his head doubtingly.
    • 1918, Edgar Wallace, chapter 7, in The Man Who Knew:
      Mr. Brandon shook his head in despair at the unbusinesslike methods of his patron.
    • 2011 October 22, Sam Sheringham, “Aston Villa 1 - 2 West Brom”, in BBC Sport[1]:
      The Irishman, outstanding in the 2-0 victory over Wolves last week, limped off soon afterwards shaking his head and exchanging words with a section of Villa fans.
  2. (less common) To move one's head up and down, in a repeated hinge-like motion from the top of the spine, to indicate agreement, affirmation, approval, or simply polite attentiveness.
    • 2005, Robert Silverberg, At Winter's End: The New Springtime, Volume 1, →ISBN, page 305:
      She listened with care, shaking her head in agreement from time to time.

Usage notes[edit]

  • A relatively quick head movement from side to side indicates an emphatic "no," while a slower motion tends to indicate disbelief or dismay.
  • A relatively quick head movement up and down indicates an emphatic "yes," while a slower motion tends to indicate attentiveness.
  • In some countries, for example in Bulgaria and Sri Lanka, the meanings are reversed: i.e. a movement side to side means "yes" and a movement up and down means "no"


  • (move one's head up and down): nod

Related terms[edit]

  • (move one's head from side to side): smh