A long time ago, in an undergraduate writing workshop far, far away, I read a story in which a character shook their head yes. When the workshop met for discussion I pointed out that people can either shake their head no or nod their head yes, but it wasn’t clear from the context which error the author had made. What genuinely surprised me, however, was not that the author didn’t know the difference, but that a handful of the other members also did not.
At the time I assumed I had stumbled into an aberrant cluster of people who were not well verse in the obscure art of describing head movements, but in the intervening decades that has proven not to be the case. In particular, there seems to be a persistent percentage of people who believe that nodding and shaking of the head both mean yes when they are decidedly not. So let this post — abetted over time by the long reach of search engine algorithms — stand as a corrective. [ Read more ]