What else can you shrug?

mcquicker

Member
USA
I have always felt that the phrase "shrug the shoulders" is almost redundant because I can't think of any other part of the body that one can shrug. So why not say "he (or she) shrugged."

This is what I do in my work and so far have not had any comments. I am putting the doubt out here to get your opinions on the matter.

Many thanks in advance...
 
  • brian

    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    I think shrugging can only ever apply to the shoulders, so it's unnecessary (redundant) to name them unless you have a good reason, e.g. you're describing them: He shrugged his frail, bony shoulders.
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    I think you can often use shrug by itself, but as brian says, there are other uses for the complete expression -- and millions of people on Google who use it as a set expression. I think I would keep the entire expression in these examples -- the first two being physical, of course, but the last two sounding a bit odd if you drop "his shoulders."

    You ask a patient to shrug his shoulders.
    To perform, have your child stand straight and shrug her shoulders up as high as she can
    And if things don't work out as planned, he can always shrug his shoulders.
    I asked myself what kind of person can just shrug his shoulders at the creation of a human-cow hybrid?
     

    JuicyJew

    Senior Member
    English
    You don't just shrug your shoulders. You can shrug off responsibility... Or people you dislike... You can shrug up in blankets... You can shrug a jacket on or off...

    But yes shrugging is fine without specifying shoulders. However there's nothing wrong with redundancy, it's one of the beauties of language.
     

    brian

    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    You don't just shrug your shoulders. You can shrug off responsibility... Or people you dislike... You can shrug up in blankets... You can shrug a jacket on or off...
    Right, but none of these can ever be shortened to just shrug. For example:

    A: You can't just shrug off this responsibility.
    B: I'm not shrugging! :cross:
    B: I'm not shrugging it off! :tick:

    So shrug by itself can only ever refer to shrugging the shoulders, and not any other body part, and not any of these special expressions. So shrugged his shoulders is often (though not always*) redundant.

    But yes shrugging is fine without specifying shoulders. However there's nothing wrong with redundancy, it's one of the beauties of language.
    Good point, but yes and no. Redundancy is often useful, but not always. For example, "to dance a dance", "biography of her life", etc. I agree that it's not wrong, and many people use redundant expressions all the time because that's simply how they learned them, but there's nothing inherently beautiful about such usage, and if a learner has the option (which the native speaker does not), I'd recommend going with the more succinct form since, stylistically, it's generally to be preferred.

    *What Copyright has shown, I think, is that shrug (by itself) is not only a physical activity, but a communicative one: it means "I don't know" or "I don't care", etc. Thus, a doctor cannot use shrug alone to command a patient to move his shoulders up & down, because the communicative aspect is missing (only the physical aspect is present); he must instead say "shrug your shoulders", where the use of shoulders implies neither the presence nor the absence of the communicative aspect. In other words, "He shrugged his shoulders" does not necessarily mean he shrugged disinterestedly/ignorantly; maybe he did so simply to loosen his muscles a bit.
     
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