wink and nod


Senior Member
What does the phrase "wink and nod" or "wink-and-nod" mean in the following sentences?:

*So no litmus test on abortion -- except the protection of “women’s rights,” which everyone in the room understood as a reference to abortion. Obama’s pose of neutrality came with a theatrical wink and nod. Everyone got the joke.

*The original status of forces agreement, negotiated in the last days of the Bush administration, called for the withdrawal of all American troops by the end of 2011. But the agreement was reached with a wink-and-nod understanding that a politically palatable way would be found to keep a substantial American troop presence in the country after that date.
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  • Fujibei

    Senior Member
    The former is a quote from a Washington Post article of April 22, 2010. I have lost the sorce record of the latter but I am pretty sure it is from the New York Times.


    Senior Member
    English - England
    It means that the speaker was saying one thing in public, but he actually intended something rather different. The gesture of making "a nod and a wink" is a secret sign to your own supporters that tells them you're not being entirely straightforward, or you really mean something different. It's a way to reassure them using coded language that they will understand, but the general public won't.

    A "theatrical" nod and wink would be one that's really obvious, so just about everybody will know what he really means - but since he doesn't actually say it outright, he can still deny saying it later if he has to.


    Senior Member
    English (England)
    "a nod and a wink"
    I was going to point out that I'd expect "a wink and a nod" (or "a nod and a wink") but not "a wink and nod" omitting the second "a". I wonder if this is a misquote in the original post, or if this is an American/British difference. Given that you are also British and write "and a nod" I wonder if it's the latter.

    Anyhow, other than that, I agree that often the meaning is as stormwreath says - but I think it doesn't always have to be so secret. "A wink and a nod" can just mean that the person was saying something tongue-in-cheek, ie not completely seriously. Particularly in the first example given I think that's the case with "everyone got the joke".


    Senior Member
    American English
    Like timpeac, I would have expected "a theatrical wink and a nod" in the first one, and " a wink-and-a-nod understanding" in the second. And I agree with his further comments.
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