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word-motion-meaning relationships

REP

Have you ever considered that you use words in your stories that define a physical motion and that motion has an accepted meaning. For example, nod or shake your head means you are moving your head up and down or you are moving it from side to side. We also correlate these head motions with yes or no and with agreement or disagreement.

Flipping someone off is another and while the body motion is different in certain cultures the meaning is the same.

Those are the only 3 word-motion-meaning relationships that I can think of. Can anyone think of others?

Is saying, 'he was nodding his head' in a story adequate to indicate he was in agreement. He could be nodding his head for another reason, so for clarity should we say 'he was nodding his head in agreement'.

Ross at Play

@REP

Can anyone think of others?

There's this List of Gestures on Wikipedia.

tendertouch

@REP

There was a story on SOL where the author wrote "...shook his head yes." He really seemed to think that that was the proper way to describe the up/down head motion we (at least in the U.S.) associate with an affirmative reply. Just strange to me.

Replies:   REP  Crumbly Writer
Ernest Bywater

@REP

I have a tendency to use the term 'nodding yes' to indicate a nod of yes as against the many other types of nods you can have like 'nodding to someone to indicate them,' or 'nodding in time with the beat of the music,' etc. Then you have 'shaking his head no' as against 'slowly shaking his head in wonder,' type of shake.

Replies:   REP
REP

@tendertouch

It is an odd way for an American to describe the motion. Perhaps the author was from another country.

Anyone know if the people in other countries use nod and shake to mean something different than Americans do?

REP

@Ernest Bywater

Lately, I've been using similar phrases to clarify nod and shake.

Ernest Bywater

@REP

Anyone know if the people in other countries use nod and shake to mean something different than Americans do?


Yes, some middle European countries have the reverse meaning to the USA.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
tendertouch

@REP

It is an odd way for an American to describe the motion. Perhaps the author was from another country.


That was my thought but he assured me that he was just from the southern U.S.

I'm not seeing a specific story that screams out, "That's the one!" but when I search on the specific phrase 'shake her head yes' there are a bunch of hits, fewer with 'shake his head yes'

tendertouch

@REP

Anyone know if the people in other countries use nod and shake to mean something different than Americans do?


Wasn't that one of the comedy plot lines in 'The Gods Must Be Crazy"?

Crumbly Writer

@tendertouch

There was a story on SOL where the author wrote "...shook his head yes." He really seemed to think that that was the proper way to describe the up/down head motion we (at least in the U.S.) associate with an affirmative reply. Just strange to me.

If the "he nodded" immediately follows a line of dialogue by another speaker, then the context of the nod is pretty clear. If the nod isn't associated with any dialogue, then all bets are off.
If he's nodding his head to music during a discussion, then obviously he isn't paying as much attention, so I always assume an author would mention that.

Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

Yes, some middle European countries have the reverse meaning to the USA.

It always makes sense to start off by clarifying the nodding, after that most readers will remember the context. But, like most things in writing, you'll need to remind them occasionally, as they'll either forget for jump around on occasion.

Anything I want a reader to remember, like a physical description that's important to the plot, I'll repeat to burn it into the reader's memory so they'll recall it when it becomes important.

awnlee jawking

@Crumbly Writer

If the "he nodded" immediately follows a line of dialogue by another speaker, then the context of the nod is pretty clear.


If the "he nodded" immediately follows a page of dialogue by another speaker (as sadly happens even in stories by the highest rated SOL authors), then the context of the nod is not so clear. It could mean, "Help, the author has trapped me in the company of this oxygen-thief windbag, and for the sake of the story's exposition I have to keep on listening even though I'm bored out of my skull."

AJ

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

If the "he nodded" immediately follows a line of dialogue by another speaker, then the context of the nod is pretty clear.


I wouldn't say it's always that clear. Here's two possible scenarios where the context does make the nod a little more obvious in the first than the nod is in second example, but in the first case the guy may be nodding to encourage the guy to continue.

a. Tom said, "Jim, I think you'll Steve is a total idiot to do that!" Jim nods, then Tom continues with ...

b. Dave asked, "Fred, I hear the new guy, Peter is a total idiot. Which one of the three newbies is Peter?" Fred nods, and Dave continues with ...

NB: I don't like this because the nod could be toward Peter or in agreement with the evaluation of Peter. Thus it needs expansion to clarify the meaning of the physical action.

Now, if I was writing these in a story I'd add a little to make it very clear>

c. Tom said, "Jim, I think you'll Steve is a total idiot to do that!" Jim nods in agreement, then Tom continues with ...

d. Dave asked, "Fred, I hear the new guy, Peter is a total idiot. Which one of the three newbies is Peter?" Fred nods to the side where Peter is standing. Dave continues with ...
An alternative to the second scenario could be:

e. Dave asked, "Fred, I hear the new guy, Peter is a total idiot. Which one of the three newbies is Peter?" Fred nods his agreement about Peter then he shrugs his shoulders to show he doesn't know which of them is Peter. Dave continues with ...

Capt. Zapp
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


If he's nodding his head to music during a discussion


I don't generally associate nodding with listening to music. I'm used to it being described as 'bobbing' one's head to the music.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer  REP
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

I wouldn't say it's always that clear. Here's two possible scenarios where the context does make the nod a little more obvious in the first than the nod is in second example, but in the first case the guy may be nodding to encourage the guy to continue.

a. Tom said, "Jim, I think you'll Steve is a total idiot to do that!" Jim nods, then Tom continues with ...

b. Dave asked, "Fred, I hear the new guy, Peter is a total idiot. Which one of the three newbies is Peter?" Fred nods, and Dave continues with ...

NB: I don't like this because the nod could be toward Peter or in agreement with the evaluation of Peter. Thus it needs expansion to clarify the meaning of the physical action.

You raise strong objectives, but I'd consider those exceptions, rather than rules, as I'd expect the nod in those cases to be given more weight/explanation, rather than burdening the everyday use of nod with the extra weight every time you use it. That seems to be shifting the burden of the extra context from the rarely used to the commonly used.

As I said, as long as you establish the context of your usage of a term, and then use it consistently, I don't think it's as important to clarify every single use of the term. Readers will understand what you're doing and adapt. In order to ensure they remember, you do need to remind them, so you'd reinforce the 'nod' to accept usage occasionaly, but you hardly need to use it constantly—unless your operating under the principal that you readers are all morons. :(

However, your later example (e) seems needlessly complicated, introducing both the nod and the shrug in the same statement. I'm sure that statement will stop many readers in their tracks, forcing them to reread the sentence several times to figure out which thing Fred is nodding to and which he's shrugging about. Those are two separate actions, and combining them into a single action step seems needlessly confusing.

Crumbly Writer

@Capt. Zapp

I don't generally associate nodding with listening to music. I'm used to it being described as 'bobbing' one's head to the music.

I agree. "Nodding" you head to the music is more aligned with your 'agreeing with the lyrics' than your enjoying the tune.

REP
Updated:

@Capt. Zapp


I'm used to it being described as 'bobbing' one's head to the music.


Two different words, the same head motion, and two different meanings.

As CW said, a periodic reminder of what the head motion means would be a good idea.

If the circumstances, listening to music or to a conversation, do not define the meaning of the motion, then the meaning should be indicated if different from what was previously defined.

For example, when I listen to a conversation, I often have an internal dialog in-progress regarding my opinion of what is being said. Am I nodding in agreement with the speakers statements or my internal dialog?

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@REP

Am I nodding in agreement with the speakers statements or my internal dialog?

I am nodding in agreement now. :-)

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

I am nodding in agreement now.

Better yet:

I'm nodding to the music of my inner editor, who has their own opinion on the discussion!

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

I nod in agreement with you too.

Switch Blayde

Nodding is pretty much saying yes (unless you're nodding off), but shaking your head is not always saying no.

You may shake your head in disgust at the question.

Maybe the character presses their lips together while shaking their head, or maybe they lower their head when shaking it, to show disgust (disapproval) at the question.

It's all about context and the way words are used.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer  REP
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

You may shake your head in disgust at the question.

Or, in summer, 'cause of those pesky gnats!

Plus, there's 'shaking your groove thang!'

But more seriously, you can't be too quick to toss in cliched reaction shots. Instead, you need to temper them to the scene, the characters and the meanings you want to convey.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

the meanings you want to convey


Which writing short stories gives you experience doing. In a short story you don't have the luxury of many words. And the shorter the story, the more so.

Dominions Son

@Ernest Bywater

NB: I don't like this because the nod could be toward Peter or in agreement with the evaluation of Peter.


Or it could be like a husband saying "Yes, dear" to his wife, which could be either:

Hell, no, I don't agree with you, but saying that will only start another argument I don't want to get into.

Or

Oh hell, she stopped talking, what did she say...I wasn't paying attention...I'd better agree with whatever it was, before she notices that I'm ignoring her.

Replies:   REP
REP

@Switch Blayde


You may shake your head in disgust at the question.


Or to get that pesky water out of your ear.

REP

@Dominions Son

Or he is lucky like one character in a movie I saw, but I don't recall the scene exactly.

His wife was tell another character about something and kept turning to her husband saying 'Right dear'.

Then she would turn back to the character she was speaking to and keep talking without waiting for him to answer, so he had nothing to worry about and did his own thing. Maybe that is the secret to a happy marriage.

Centaur

Nodding in agreement or saying yes.
Nodding to the beat of the music.
Nod in a greeting. Non-verbal hello.
Nod in a direction or toward something/someone.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Centaur

Nodding in agreement or saying yes.
Nodding to the beat of the music.
Nod in a greeting. Non-verbal hello.
Nod in a direction or toward something/someone.


Nod to indicate you're still listening.

Replies:   REP
REP

@Ernest Bywater

Nod to indicate you're listening and still awake. :)

Ernest Bywater

@REP

Nod to indicate you're listening and still awake. :)


Nod to indicate you're still awake is another, as I can listen in my sleep. ;)

Capt. Zapp

@REP

Nod to indicate you're listening and still awake. :)


Nodding off because the speaker is so boring. :p

Crumbly Writer

@REP

Nod to indicate you're listening and still awake. :)

Or nodding because you're falling asleep (actually more of a head jerk).

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