icon


Previous Section. Link to Book Room 
Next Section.

CHAPTER XI - DISDAIN--CONTEMPT--DISGUST-GUILT--PRIDE, ETC.--HELPLESSNESS--PATIENCE-- AFFIRMATION AND NEGATION.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882)

CHAPTER XI.


DISDAIN--CONTEMPT--DISGUST-GUILT--PRIDE, ETC.--HELPLESSNESS--PATIENCE--

AFFIRMATION AND NEGATION.



Contempt, scorn and disdain, variously expressed--Derisive smile--

Gestures expressive of contempt--Disgust--Guilt, deceit, pride, &c.--

Helplessness or impotence--Patience--Obstinacy--Shrugging the shoulders

common to most of the races of man--Signs of affirmation and negation.





SCORN and disdain can hardly be distinguished from contempt,

excepting that they imply a rather more angry frame of mind.

Nor can they be clearly distinguished from the feelings discussed

in the last chapter under the terms of sneering and defiance.

Disgust is a sensation rather more distinct in its nature

and refers to something revolting, primarily in relation to

the sense of taste, as actually perceived or vividly imagined;

and secondarily to anything which causes a similar feeling,

through the sense of smell, touch, and even of eyesight.

Nevertheless, extreme contempt, or as it is often called

loathing contempt, hardly differs from disgust.  These several

conditions of the mind are, therefore, nearly related;

and each of them may be exhibited in many different ways.

Some writers have insisted chiefly on one mode of expression,

and others on a different mode.  From this circumstance M. Lemoine

has argued[1] that their descriptions are not trustworthy.

But we shall immediately see that it is natural that the

feelings which we have here to consider should be expressed

in many different ways, inasmuch as various habitual actions

serve equally well, through the principle of association,

for their expression.



Scorn and disdain, as well as sneering and defiance, may be displayed

by a slight uncovering of the canine tooth on one side of the face;

and this movement appears to graduate into one closely like a smile.

Or the smile or laugh may be real, although one of derision;

and this implies that the offender is so insignificant that he excites

only amusement; but the amusement is generally a pretence.

Gaika in his answers to my queries remarks, that contempt

is commonly shown by his countrymen, the Kafirs, by smiling;

and the Rajah Brooke makes the same observation with respect to the Dyaks

of Borneo.  As laughter is primarily the expression of simple joy,

very young children do not, I believe, ever laugh in derision.



The partial closure of the eyelids, as Duchenne[2] insists,

or the turning away of the eyes or of the whole body,

are likewise highly expressive of disdain.  These actions

seem to declare that the despised person is not worth looking

at or is disagreeable to behold.  The accompanying photograph

(Plate V. fig.  1) by Mr. Rejlander, shows this form of disdain.

It represents a young lady, who is supposed to be tearing up

the photograph of a despised lover.



The most common method of expressing contempt is by movements

about the nose, or round the mouth; but the latter movements,

when strongly pronounced, indicate disgust.  The nose may be slightly

turned up, which apparently follows from the turning up of the upper lip;

or the movement may be abbreviated into the mere wrinkling of the nose.

The nose is often slightly contracted, so as partly to close the 
passage;[3]

and this is commonly accompanied by a slight snort or expiration.

All these actions are the same with those which we employ when we

perceive an offensive odour, and wish to exclude or expel it.

In extreme cases, as Dr. Piderit remarks,[4] we protrude and raise

both lips, or the upper lip alone, so as to close the nostrils

as by a valve, the nose being thus turned up.  We seem thus to say

to the despised person that he smells offensively,[5] in nearly

the same manner as we express to him by half-closing our eyelids,

or turning away our faces, that he is not worth looking at.

It must not, however, be supposed that such ideas actually pass

through the mind when we exhibit our contempt; but as whenever we

have perceived a disagreeable odour or seen a disagreeable sight,

actions of this kind have been performed, they have become habitual

or fixed, and are now employed under any analogous state of mind.





[1] `De In Physionomie et la Parole,' 1865, p.  89.



[2] `Physionomie Humaine,' Album, Legende viii.  p.  35.

Gratiolet also speaks (De la Phys.  1865, p.  52) of the turning

away of the eyes and body.





[3] Dr. W. Ogle, in an interesting paper on the Sense

of Smell (`Medico-Chirurgical Transactions,' vol.  liii.  p.  268), shows

that when we wish to smell carefully, instead of taking one deep

nasal inspiration, we draw in the air by a succession of rapid short 
sniffs.

If "the nostrils be watched during this process, it will be seen that,

so far from dilating, they actually contract at each sniff.

The contraction does not include the whole anterior opening, but only

the posterior portion."  He then explains the cause of this movement.

When, on the other hand, we wish to exclude any odour, the contraction,

I presume, affects only the anterior part of the nostrils.



[4] `Mimik und Physiognomik,' ss.  84, 93.  Gratiolet (ibid. p.

155) takes nearly the same view with Dr. Piderit respecting

the expression of contempt and disgust.



[5] Scorn implies a strong form of contempt; and one of the roots

of the word `scorn' means, according to Mr. Wedgwood (Dict. of

English Etymology, vol.  iii.  p.  125), ordure or dirt.

A person who is scorned is treated like dirt.



Various odd little gestures likewise indicate contempt;

for instance, _snapping one's fingers_.  This, as Mr. Taylor

remarks,[6] "is not very intelligible as we generally see it;

but when we notice that the same sign made quite gently,

as if rolling some tiny object away between the finger and thumb,

or the sign of flipping it away with the thumb-nail and forefinger,

are usual and well-understood deaf-and-dumb gestures, denoting

anything tiny, insignificant, contemptible, it seems as though we

had exaggerated and conventionalized a perfectly natural action,

so as to lose sight of its original meaning.  There is a curious

mention of this gesture by Strabo."  Mr. Washington Matthews

informs me that, with the Dakota Indians of North America,

contempt is shown not only by movements of the face, such as those

above described, but "conventionally, by the hand being closed

and held near the breast, then, as the forearm is suddenly extended,

the hand is opened and the fingers separated from each other.

If the person at whose expense the sign is made is present, the hand

is moved towards him, and the head sometimes averted from him."

This sudden extension and opening of the hand perhaps indicates

the dropping or throwing away a valueless object.



The term `disgust,' in its simplest sense, means something offensive

to the taste.  It is curious how readily this feeling is excited

by anything unusual in the appearance, odour, or nature of our food.

In Tierra del Fuego a native touched with his finger some cold

preserved meat which I was eating at our bivouac, and plainly

showed utter disgust at its softness; whilst I felt utter disgust

at my food being touched by a naked savage, though his hands did

not appear dirty.  A smear of soup on a man's beard looks disgusting,

though there is of course nothing disgusting in the soup itself.

I presume that this follows from the strong association in our minds

between the sight of food, however circumstanced, and the idea

of eating it.







[6] `Early History of Mankind,' 2nd edit.  1870, p.  45.



As the sensation of disgust primarily arises in connection

with the act of eating or tasting, it is natural that its

expression should consist chiefly in movements round the mouth.

But as disgust also causes annoyance, it is generally accompanied

by a frown, and often by gestures as if to push away or to guard

oneself against the offensive object.  In the two photographs

(figs. 2 and 3, on Plate V.) Mr. Rejlander has simulated this

expression with some success.  With respect to the face,

moderate disgust is exhibited in various ways; by the mouth being

widely opened, as if to let an offensive morsel drop out; by spitting;

by blowing out of the protruded lips; or by a sound as of clearing

the throat.  Such guttural sounds are written _ach_ or _ugh_;

and their utterance is sometimes accompanied by a shudder,

the arms being pressed close to the sides and the shoulders

raised in the same manner as when horror is experienced.[7]

Extreme disgust is expressed by movements round the month

identical with those preparatory to the act of vomiting.

The mouth is opened widely, with the upper lip strongly retracted,

which wrinkles the sides of the nose, and with the lower lip

protruded and everted as much as possible.  This latter movement

requires the contraction of the muscles which draw downwards

the corners of the mouth.[8]





[7] See, to this effect, Mr. Hensleigh Wedgwood's Introduction

to the `Dictionary of English Etymology,' 2nd edit.

1872, p.  xxxvii.



It is remarkable how readily and instantly retching or actual vomiting

is induced in some persons by the mere idea of having partaken

of any unusual food, as of an animal which is not commonly eaten;

although there is nothing in such food to cause the stomach to reject it.

When vomiting results, as a reflex action, from some real cause--

as from too rich food, or tainted meat, or from an emetic--it does not

ensue immediately, but generally after a considerable interval of time.

Therefore, to account for retching or vomiting being so quickly and easily

excited by a mere idea, the suspicion arises that our progenitors

must formerly have had the power (like that possessed by ruminants

and some other animals) of voluntarily rejecting food which disagreed

with them, or which they thought would disagree with them; and now,

though this power has been lost, as far as the will is concerned,

it is called into involuntary action, through the force of a formerly

well-established habit, whenever the mind revolts at the idea

of having partaken of any kind of food, or at anything disgusting.

This suspicion receives support from the fact, of which I am assured

by Mr. Sutton, that the monkeys in the Zoological Gardens often vomit

whilst in perfect health, which looks as if the act were voluntary.

We can see that as man is able to communicate by language to his

children and others, the knowledge of the kinds of food to be avoided,

he would have little occasion to use the faculty of voluntary rejection;

so that this power would tend to be lost through disuse.





[8] Duchenne believes that in the eversion of the lower lip,

the corners are drawn downwards by the _depressores anguli oris_.

Henle (Handbuch d.  Anat.  des Menschen, 1858, B. i.  s.  151) concludes 
that

this is effected by the _musculus quadratus menti_.



As the sense of smell is so intimately connected with that of taste,

it is not surprising that an excessively bad odour should excite retching

or vomiting in some persons, quite as readily as the thought of revolting

food does; and that, as a further consequence, a moderately offensive

odour should cause the various expressive movements of disgust.

The tendency to retch from a fetid odour is immediately strengthened

in a curious manner by some degree of habit, though soon lost by longer

familiarity with the cause of offence and by voluntary restraint.

For instance, I wished to clean the skeleton of a bird, which had not

been sufficiently macerated, and the smell made my servant and myself

(we not having had much experience in such work) retch so violently,

that we were compelled to desist.  During the previous days I had

examined some other skeletons, which smelt slightly; yet the odour

did not in the least affect me, but, subsequently for several days,

whenever I handled these same skeletons, they made me retch.



From the answers received from my correspondents it appears that

the various movements, which have now been described as expressing

contempt and disgust, prevail throughout a large part of the world.

Dr. Rothrock, for instance, answers with a decided affirmative with

respect to certain wild Indian tribes of North America.  Crantz says

that when a Greenlander denies anything with contempt or horror

he turns up his nose, and gives a slight sound through it.[9] Mr. Scott

has sent me a graphic description of the face of a young Hindoo at

the sight of castor-oil, which he was compelled occasionally to take.

Mr. Scott has also seen the same expression on the faces of high-caste

natives who have approached close to some defiling object.

Mr. Bridges says that the Fuegians "express contempt by shooting

out the lips and hissing through them, and by turning up the nose."

The tendency either to snort through the nose, or to make a noise

expressed by _ugh_ or _ach_, is noticed by several of my correspondents.





[9] As quoted by Tylor, `Primitive Culture,' 1871, vol.  i.  p.  169.



Spitting seems an almost universal sign of contempt or disgust;

and spitting obviously represents the rejection of anything offensive

from the mouth.  Shakspeare makes the Duke of Norfolk say, "I spit at him--

call him a slanderous coward and a villain."  So, again, Falstaff says,

"Tell thee what, Hal,--if I tell thee a lie, spit in my face."

Leichhardt remarks that the Australians "interrupted their speeches

by spitting, and uttering a noise like pooh! pooh! apparently

expressive of their disgust."  And Captain Burton speaks

of certain negroes "spitting with disgust upon the ground."

Captain Speedy informs me that this is likewise the case with

the Abyssinians.  Mr. Geach says that with the Malays of Malacca

the expression of disgust "answers to spitting from the mouth;"

and with the Fuegians, according to Mr. Bridges "to spit at one is

the highest mark of contempt."



I never saw disgust more plainly expressed than on the face of one of my

infants at the age of five months, when, for the first time, some cold 
water,

and again a month afterwards, when a piece of ripe cherry was put into

his mouth.  This was shown by the lips and whole mouth assuming a shape

which allowed the contents to run or fall quickly out; the tongue being

likewise protruded.  These movements were accompanied by a little shudder.

It was all the more comical, as I doubt whether the child felt real 
disgust--

the eyes and forehead expressing much surprise and consideration.

The protrusion of the tongue in letting a nasty object fall out of the 
mouth,

may explain how it is that lolling out the tongue universally serves

as a sign of contempt and hatred.[11]





[10] Both these quotations are given by Mr. H. Wedgwood, `On the Origin

of Language,' 1866, p.  75.



We have now seen that scorn, disdain, contempt, and disgust are

expressed in many different ways, by movements of the features,

and by various gestures; and that these are the same throughout the world.

They all consist of actions representing the rejection or exclusion

of some real object which we dislike or abhor, but which does not

excite in us certain other strong emotions, such as rage or terror;

and through the force of habit and association similar actions

are performed, whenever any analogous sensation arises in our minds.



_Jealousy, Envy, Avarice, Revenge, Suspicion, Deceit, Slyness, Guilt,

Vanity, Conceit, Ambition, Pride, Humility, &c_.--It is doubtful whether

the greater number of the above complex states of mind are revealed by any

fixed expression, sufficiently distinct to be described or delineated.

When Shakspeare speaks of Envy as _lean-faced_, or _black_, or _pale_,

and Jealousy as "_the green-eyed monster_;" and when Spenser describes

Suspicion as "_foul, ill-favoured, and grim_," they must have felt

this difficulty.  Nevertheless, the above feelings--at least many of them--

can be detected by the eye; for instance, conceit; but we are often

guided in a much greater degree than we suppose by our previous knowledge

of the persons or circumstances.



My correspondents almost unanimously answer in the affirmative to my query,

whether the expression of guilt and deceit can be recognized amongst

the various races of man; and I have confidence in their answers,

as they generally deny that jealousy can thus be recognized.  In the cases

in which details are given, the eyes are almost always referred to.

The guilty man is said to avoid looking at his accuser, or to give him

stolen looks.  The eyes are said "to be turned askant," or "to waver

from side to side," or "the eyelids to be lowered and partly closed."

This latter remark is made by Mr. Hagenauer with respect to the 
Australians,

and by Gaika with respect to the Kafirs.  The restless movements of the 
eyes

apparently follow, as will be explained when we treat of blushing,

from the guilty man not enduring to meet the gaze of his accuser.

I may add, that I have observed a guilty expression, without a

shade of fear, in some of my own children at a very early age.

In one instance the expression was unmistakably clear in a child two years

and seven months old, and led to the detection of his little crime.

It was shown, as I record in my notes made at the time, by an

unnatural brightness in the eyes, and by an odd, affected manner,

impossible to describe.





[11] This is stated to be the case by Mr. Tylor (Early Hist.

of Mankind, 2nd edit.  1870, p.  52); and he adds, "it is not

clear why this should be so."



Slyness is also, I believe, exhibited chiefly by movements about the eyes;

for these are less under the control of the will, owing to the force

of long-continued habit, than are the movements of the body.

Mr. Herbert Spencer remarks,[12] "When there is a desire to see something

on one side of the visual field without being supposed to see it,

the tendency is to check the conspicuous movement of the head,

and to make the required adjustment entirely with the eyes;

which are, therefore, drawn very much to one side.  Hence, when the eyes

are turned to one side, while the face is not turned to the same side,

we get the natural language of what is called slyness."





[12] `Principles of Psychology,' 2nd edit.  1872, p.  552.



Of all the above-named complex emotions, Pride, perhaps, is the most

plainly expressed.  A proud man exhibits his sense of superiority

over others by holding his head and body erect.  He is haughty

(_haut_), or high, and makes himself appear as large as possible;

so that metaphorically he is said to be swollen or puffed up with pride.

A peacock or a turkey-cock strutting about with puffed-up feathers,

is sometimes said to be an emblem of pride.[13] The arrogant man

looks down on others, and with lowered eyelids hardly condescends

to see them; or he may show his contempt by slight movements,

such as those before described, about the nostrils or lips.

Hence the muscle which everts the lower lip has been called

the _musculus superbus_.  In some photographs of patients

affected by a monomania of pride, sent me by Dr. Crichton Browne,

the head and body were held erect, and the mouth firmly closed.

This latter action, expressive of decision, follows, I presume,

from the proud man feeling perfect self-confidence in himself.

The whole expression of pride stands in direct antithesis to that

of humility; so that nothing need here be said of the latter

state of mind.





_Helplessness, Impotence:  Shrugging the shoulders_.--When a man wishes

to show that he cannot do something, or prevent something being done,

he often raises with a quick movement both shoulders.  At the same time,

if the whole gesture is completed, he bends his elbows closely inwards,

raises his open hands, turning them outwards, with the fingers separated.

The head is often thrown a little on one side; the eyebrows are elevated,

and this causes wrinkles across the forehead.  The mouth is generally 
opened.

I may mention, in order to show how unconsciously the features are thus

acted on, that though I had often intentionally shrugged my shoulders

to observe how my arms were placed, I was not at all aware that my eyebrows

were raised and mouth opened, until I looked at myself in a glass;

and since then I have noticed the same movements in the faces of others.

In the accompanying Plate VI., figs.  3 and 4, Mr. Rejlander has 
successfully

acted the gesture of shrugging the shoulders.





[12] Gratiolet (De la Phys.  p.  351) makes this remark,

and has some good observations on the expression of pride.

See Sir C. Bell (`Anatomy of Expression,' p.  111) on the action

of the _musculus superbus_.



Englishmen are much less demonstrative than the men of most other

European nations, and they shrug their shoulders far less frequently

and energetically than Frenchmen or Italians do.  The gesture

varies in all degrees from the complex movement, just described,

to only a momentary and scarcely perceptible raising of both shoulders;

or, as I have noticed in a lady sitting in an arm-chair, to the mere

turning slightly outwards of the open hands with separated fingers.

I have never seen very young English children shrug their shoulders,

but the following case was observed with care by a medical professor

and excellent observer, and has been communicated to me by him.

The father of this gentleman was a Parisian, and his mother a Scotch lady.

His wife is of British extraction on both sides, and my informant

does not believe that she ever shrugged her shoulders in her life.

His children have been reared in England, and the nursemaid is a

thorough Englishwoman, who has never been seen to shrug her shoulders.

Now, his eldest daughter was observed to shrug her shoulders at the age

of between sixteen and eighteen months; her mother exclaiming at

the time, "Look at the little French girl shrugging her shoulders!"

At first she often acted thus, sometimes throwing her head a little

backwards and on one side, but she did not, as far as was observed,

move her elbows and hands in the usual manner.  The habit gradually

wore away, and now, when she is a little over four years old,

she is never seen to act thus.  The father is told that he sometimes

shrugs his shoulders, especially when arguing with any one; but it

is extremely improbable that his daughter should have imitated him at

so early an age; for, as he remarks, she could not possibly have often

seen this gesture in him.  Moreover, if the habit had been acquired

through imitation, it is not probable that it would so soon have been

spontaneously discontinued by this child, and, as we shall immediately see,

by a second child, though the father still lived with his family.

This little girl, it may be added, resembles her Parisian grandfather

in countenance to an almost absurd degree.  She also presents another and

very curious resemblance to him, namely, by practising a singular trick.

When she impatiently wants something, she holds out her little hand,

and rapidly rubs the thumb against the index and middle finger:

now this same trick was frequently performed under the same circumstances

by her grandfather.



This gentleman's second daughter also shrugged her shoulders before

the age of eighteen months, and afterwards discontinued the habit.

It is of course possible that she may have imitated her elder sister;

but she continued it after her sister had lost the habit.

She at first resembled her Parisian grandfather in a less degree

than did her sister at the same age, but now in a greater degree.

She likewise practises to the present time the peculiar habit of

rubbing together, when impatient, her thumb and two of her fore-fingers.



In this latter case we have a good instance, like those given

in a former chapter, of the inheritance of a trick or gesture;

for no one, I presume, will attribute to mere coincidence

so peculiar a habit as this, which was common to the grandfather

and his two grandchildren who had never seen him.



Considering all the circumstances with reference to these children

shrugging their shoulders, it can hardly be doubted that they

have inherited the habit from their French progenitors,

although they have only one quarter French blood in their veins,

and although their grandfather did not often shrug his shoulders.

There is nothing very unusual, though the fact is interesting,

in these children having gained by inheritance a habit during

early youth, and then discontinuing it; for it is of frequent

occurrence with many kinds of animals that certain characters

are retained for a period by the young, and are then lost.



As it appeared to me at one time improbable in a high degree

that so complex a gesture as shrugging the shoulders,

together with the accompanying movements, should be innate,

I was anxious to ascertain whether the blind and deaf Laura Bridgman,

who could not have learnt the habit by imitation, practised it.

And I have heard, through Dr. Innes, from a lady who has

lately had charge of her, that she does shrug her shoulders,

turn in her elbows, and raise her eyebrows in the same

manner as other people, and under the same circumstances.

I was also anxious to learn whether this gesture was practised

by the various races of man, especially by those who never have

had much intercourse with Europeans.  We shall see that they act

in this manner; but it appears that the gesture is sometimes

confined to merely raising or shrugging the shoulders,

without the other movements.



Mr. Scott has frequently seen this gesture in the Bengalees and Dhangars

(the latter constituting a distinct race) who are employed in the

Botanic Garden at Calcutta; when, for instance, they have declared

that they could not do some work, such as lifting a heavy weight.

He ordered a Bengalee to climb a lofty tree; but the man, with a shrug

of his shoulders and a lateral shake of his head, said he could not.

Mr. Scott knowing that the man was lazy, thought he could,

and insisted on his trying.  His face now became pale, his arms

dropped to his sides, his mouth and eyes were widely opened,

and again surveying the tree, he looked askant at Mr. Scott,

shrugged his shoulders, inverted his elbows, extended his open hands,

and with a few quick lateral shakes of the head declared his inability.

Mr. H. Erskine has likewise seen the natives of India shrugging

their shoulders; but he has never seen the elbows turned so much

inwards as with us; and whilst shrugging their shoulders they

sometimes lay their uncrossed hands on their breasts.



With the wild Malays of the interior of Malacca, and with the Bugis

(true Malays, though speaking a different, language), Mr. Geach has

often seen this gesture.  I presume that it is complete, as, in answer

to my query descriptive of the movements of the shoulders, arms, hands,

and face, Mr. Geach remarks, "it is performed in a beautiful style."

I have lost an extract from a scientific voyage, in which shrugging

the shoulders by some natives (Micronesians) of the Caroline Archipelago

in the Pacific Ocean, was well described.  Capt. Speedy informs me

that the Abyssinians shrug their shoulders but enters into no details.

Mrs. Asa Gray saw an Arab dragoman in Alexandria acting exactly

as described in my query, when an old gentleman, on whom he attended,

would not go in the proper direction which had been pointed out to him.



Mr. Washington Matthews says, in reference to the wild Indian

tribes of the western parts of the United States, "I have on a few

occasions detected men using a slight apologetic shrug, but the rest

of the demonstration which you describe I have not witnessed."

Fritz Muller informs me that he has seen the negroes in Brazil

shrugging their shoulders; but it is of course possible that they

may have learnt to do so by imitating the Portuguese.  Mrs. Barber has

never seen this gesture with the Kafirs of South Africa; and Gaika,

judging from his answer, did not even understand what was meant

by my description.  Mr. Swinhoe is also doubtful about the Chinese;

but he has seen them, under the circumstances which would make us

shrug our shoulders, press their right elbow against their side,

raise their eyebrows, lift up their hand with the palm directed

towards the person addressed, and shake it from right to left.

Lastly, with respect to the Australians, four of my informants

answer by a simple negative, and one by a simple affirmative.

Mr. Bunnett, who has had excellent opportunities for observation

on the borders of the Colony of Victory, also answers by a "yes,"

adding that the gesture is performed "in a more subdued and less

demonstrative manner than is the case with civilized nations."

This circumstance may account for its not having been noticed

by four of my informants.



These statements, relating to Europeans, Hindoos, the hill-tribes

of India, Malays, Micronesians, Abyssinians, Arabs, Negroes, Indians of

North America, and apparently to the Australians--many of these natives

having had scarcely any intercourse with Europeans--are sufficient

to show that shrugging the shoulders, accompanied in some cases

by the other proper movements, is a gesture natural to mankind.



This gesture implies an unintentional or unavoidable action

on our own part, or one that we cannot perform; or an action

performed by another person which we cannot prevent.

It accompanies such speeches as, "It was not my fault;"

"It is impossible for me to grant this favour;" "He must follow his

own course, I cannot stop him."  Shrugging the shoulders likewise

expresses patience, or the absence of any intention to resist.

Hence the muscles which raise the shoulders are sometimes called,

as I have been informed by an artist, the patience muscles."

Shylock the Jew, says,



 "Signor Antonio, many a time and oft

 In the Rialto have you rated me

 About my monies and usances;

 Still have I borne it with a patient shrug."

_Merchant of Venice_, act 1.  sc.  3.





Sir C. Bell has given[14] a life-like figure of a man,

who is shrinking back from some terrible danger,

and is on the point of screaming out in abject terror.

He is represented with his shoulders lifted up almost to his ears;

and this at once declares that there is no thought of resistance.



As shrugging the shoulders generally implies "I cannot do this or that,"

so by a slight change, it sometimes implies "I won't do it."

The movement then expresses a dogged determination not to act.

Olmsted describes[15] an Indian in Texas as giving a great shrug

to his shoulders, when he was informed that a party of men were

Germans and not Americans, thus expressing that he would have

nothing to do with them.  Sulky and obstinate children may be seen

with both their shoulders raised high up; but this movement is not

associated with the others which generally accompany a true shrug.

An excellent observer[16] in describing a young man who was

determined not to yield to his father's desire, says, "He thrust

his hands deep down into his pockets, and set up his shoulders

to his ears, which was a good warning that, come right or wrong,

this rock should fly from its firm base as soon as Jack would;

and that any remonstrance on the subject was purely futile."

As soon as the son got his own way, he "put his shoulders into

their natural position."





[14] `Anatomy of Expression,' p.  166.



[15] `Journey through Texas,' p.  352.



Resignation is sometimes shown by the open hands being placed,

one over the other, on the lower part of the body.  I should not have

thought this little gesture worth even a passing notice, had not

Dr. W. Ogle remarked to me that he had two or three times observed

it in patients who were preparing for operations under chloroform.

They exhibited no great fear, but seemed to declare by this posture

of their hands, that they had made up their minds, and were resigned

to the inevitable.



We may now inquire why men in all parts of the world when they feel,--

whether or not they wish to show this feeling,--that they

cannot or will not do something, or will not resist something

if done by another, shrug their shoulders, at the same time

often bending in their elbows, showing the palms of their hands

with extended fingers, often throwing their heads a little

on one side, raising their eyebrows, and opening their mouths.

These states of the mind are either simply passive,

or show a determination not to act.  None of the above

movements are of the least service.  The explanation lies,

I cannot doubt, in the principle of unconscious antithesis.

This principle here seems to come into play as clearly as in

the case of a dog, who, when feeling savage, puts himself in

the proper attitude for attacking and for making himself appear

terrible to his enemy; but as soon as he feels affectionate,

throws his whole body into a directly opposite attitude,

though this is of no direct use to him.





[16] Mrs. Oliphant, `The Brownlows,' vol.  ii.  p.  206.



Let it be observed how an indignant man, who resents, and will not

submit to some injury, holds his head erect, squares his shoulders,

and expands his chest.  He often clenches his fists, and puts

one or both arms in the proper position for attack or defence,

with the muscles of his limbs rigid.  He frowns,--that is,

he contracts and lowers his brows,--and, being determined,

closes his mouth.  The actions and attitude of a helpless man are,

in every one of these respects, exactly the reverse.  In Plate VI.

we may imagine one of the figures on the left side to have just said,

"What do you mean by insulting me?" and one of the figures

on the right side to answer, "I really could not help it."

The helpless man unconsciously contracts the muscles of his

forehead which are antagonistic to those that cause a frown,

and thus raises his eyebrows; at the same time he relaxes

the muscles about the mouth, so that the lower jaw drops.

The antithesis is complete in every detail, not only in the movements

of the features, but in the position of the limbs and in the attitude

of the whole body, as may be seen in the accompanying plate.

As the helpless or apologetic man often wishes to show his state

of mind, he then acts in a conspicuous or demonstrative manner.



In accordance with the fact that squaring the elbows and clenching

the fists are gestures by no means universal with the men of all races,

when they feel indignant and are prepared to attack their enemy,

so it appears that a helpless or apologetic frame of mind is expressed

in many parts of the world by merely shrugging the shoulders,

without turning inwards the elbows and opening the hands.

The man or child who is obstinate, or one who is resigned to some

great misfortune, has in neither case any idea of resistance

by active means; and he expresses this state of mind, by simply

keeping his shoulders raised; or he may possibly fold his arms

across his breast.



_Signs of affirmation or approval, and of negation or disapproval:

nodding and shaking the head_.--I was curious to ascertain how far

the common signs used by us in affirmation and negation were general

throughout the world.  These signs are indeed to a certain extent

expressive of our feelings, as we give a vertical nod of approval

with a smile to our children, when we approve of their conduct;

and shake our heads laterally with a frown, when we disapprove.

With infants, the first act of denial consists in refusing food;

and I repeatedly noticed with my own infants, that they did so by

withdrawing their heads laterally from the breast, or from anything offered

them in a spoon.  In accepting food and taking it into their mouths,

they incline their heads forwards.  Since making these observations I

have been informed that the same idea had occurred to Charma.[17] It

deserves notice that in accepting or taking food, there is only

a single movement forward, and a single nod implies an affirmation.

On the other hand, in refusing food, especially if it be pressed on them,

children frequently move their heads several times from side to side,

as we do in shaking our heads in negation.  Moreover, in the case of 
refusal,

the head is not rarely thrown backwards, or the mouth is closed,

so that these movements might likewise come to serve as signs of negation.

Mr. Wedgwood remarks on this subject,[18] that "when the voice is exerted

with closed teeth or lips, it produces the sound of the letter _n_ or _m_.

Hence we may account for the use of the particle _ne_ to signify negation,

and possibly also of the Greek mh in the same sense."





[17] `Essai sur le Langage,' 2nd edit.  1846.  I am much

indebted to Miss Wedgwood for having given me this information,

with an extract from the work.



That these signs are innate or instinctive, at least with Anglo-Saxons,

is rendered highly probable by the blind and deaf Laura Bridgman

"constantly accompanying her _yes_ with the common affirmative nod,

and her _no_ with our negative shake of the head."  Had not Mr. Lieber

stated to the contrary,[19] I should have imagined that these gestures

might have been acquired or learnt by her, considering her wonderful

sense of touch and appreciation of the movements of others.

With microcephalous idiots, who are so degraded that they never learn

to speak, one of them is described by Vogt,[20] as answering, when asked

whether he wished for more food or drink, by inclining or shaking his head.

Schmalz, in his remarkable dissertation on the education of the deaf

and dumb, as well as of children raised only one degree above idiotcy,

assumes that they can always both make and understand the common signs

of affirmation and negation."



Nevertheless if we look to the various races of man, these signs are

not so universally employed as I should have expected; yet they seem

too general to be ranked as altogether conventional or artificial.

My informants assert that both signs are used by the Malays,

by the natives of Ceylon, the Chinese, the negroes of the Guinea

coast, and, according to Gaika, by the Kafirs of South Africa,

though with these latter people Mrs. Barber has never seen a lateral

shake used as a negative.  With respect to the Australians,

seven observers agree that a nod is given in affirmation; five agree

about a lateral shake in negation, accompanied or not by some word;

but Mr. Dyson Lacy has never seen this latter sign in Queensland,

and Mr. Bulmer says that in Gipps' Land a negative is expressed

by throwing the head a little backwards and putting out the tongue.

At the northern extremity of the continent, near Torres Straits,

the natives when uttering a negative "don't shake the head with it,

but holding up the right hand, shake it by turning it half round

and back again two or three times."[22] The throwing back of the head

with a cluck of the tongue is said to be used as a negative by the modern

Greeks and Turks, the latter people expressing _yes_ by a movement

like that made by us when we shake our heads.[23] The Abyssinians,

as I am informed by Captain Speedy, express a negative by jerking

the head to the right shoulder, together with a slight cluck,

the mouth being closed; an affirmation is expressed by the head

being thrown backwards and the eyebrows raised for an instant.

The Tagals of Luzon, in the Philippine Archipelago, as I hear from

Dr. Adolf Meyer, when they say "yes," also throw the head backwards.

According to the Rajah Brooke, the Dyaks of Borneo express an

affirmation by raising the eyebrows, and a negation by slightly

contracting them, together with a peculiar look from the eyes.

With the Arabs on the Nile, Professor and Mrs. Asa Gray concluded

that nodding in affirmation was rare, whilst shaking the head

in negation was never used, and was not even understood by them.

With the Esquimaux[24] a nod means _yes_ and a wink _no_.

The New Zealanders "elevate the head and chin in place

of nodding acquiescence."[25]





[18] `On the Origin of Language,' 1866, p.  91.



[19] `On the Vocal Sounds of L. Bridgman;' Smithsonian Contributions,

1851, vol.  ii.  p.  11.



[20] `Memoire sur les Microcephales,' 1867, p.  27.



[21] Quoted by Tylor, `Early History of Mankind,' 2nd edit.

1870, p.  38.





[22] Mr. J. B. Jukes, `Letters and Extracts,' &c. 1871, p.  248.



[23] F. Lieber, `On the Vocal Sounds,' &c. p.  11.  Tylor, ibid.  p.  53.



With the Hindoos Mr. H. Erskine concludes from inquiries

made from experienced Europeans, and from native gentlemen,

that the signs of affirmation and negation vary--a nod and a

lateral shake being sometimes used as we do; but a negative

is more commonly expressed by the head being thrown suddenly

backwards and a little to one side, with a cluck of the tongue.

What the meaning may be of this cluck of the tongue,

which has been observed with various people, I cannot imagine.

A native gentleman stated that affirmation is frequently shown

by the head being thrown to the left.  I asked Mr. Scott to attend

particularly to this point, and, after repeated observations,

he believes that a vertical nod is not commonly used by

the natives in affirmation, but that the head is first thrown

backwards either to the left or right, and then jerked obliquely

forwards only once.  This movement would perhaps have been

described by a less careful observer as a lateral shake.

He also states that in negation the head is usually held

nearly upright, and shaken several times.



Mr. Bridges informs me that the Fuegians nod their heads

vertically in affirmation, and shake them laterally in denial.

With the wild Indians of North America, according to

Mr. Washington Matthews, nodding and shaking the head have

been learnt from Europeans, and are not naturally employed.

They express affirmation by describing with the hand

(all the fingers except the index being flexed) a curve downwards

and outwards from the body, whilst negation is expressed by

moving the open hand outwards, with the palm facing inwards."

Other observers state that the sign of affirmation with these Indians

is the forefinger being raised, and then lowered and pointed

to the ground, or the hand is waved straight forward from the face;

and that the sign of negation is the finger or whole hand

shaken from side to side.[26] This latter movement probably

represents in all cases the lateral shaking of the head.

The Italians are said in like manner to move the lifted finger

from right to left in negation, as indeed we English sometimes do.





[24] Dr. King, Edinburgh Phil.  Journal, 1845, p.  313.



[25] Tylor, `Early History of Mankind,' 2nd edit.  1870, p.  53.



On the whole we find considerable diversity in the signs

of affirmation and negation in the different races of man.

With respect to negation, if we admit that the shaking of

the finger or hand from side to side is symbolic of the lateral

movement of the head; and if we admit that the sudden backward

movement of the head represents one of the actions often

practised by young children in refusing food, then there is

much uniformity throughout the world in the signs of negation,

and we can see how they originated.  The most marked exceptions

are presented by the Arabs, Esquimaux, some Australian tribes,

and Dyaks.  With the latter a frown is the sign of negation,

and with us frowning often accompanies a lateral shake of the head.



With respect to nodding in affirmation, the exceptions

are rather more numerous, namely with some of the Hindoos,

with the Turks, Abyssinians, Dyaks, Tagals, and New Zealanders.

The eyebrows are sometimes raised in affirmation, and as a person

in bending his head forwards and downwards naturally looks up to

the person whom he addresses, he will be apt to raise his eyebrows,

and this sign may thus have arisen as an abbreviation.

So again with the New Zealanders, the lifting up the chin

and head in affirmation may perhaps represent in an abbreviated

form the upward movement of the head after it has been nodded

forwards and downwards.





[26] Lubbock, `The Origin of Civilization,' 1870, p.  277.

Tylor, ibid.  p.  38.  Lieber (ibid. p.  11) remarks on the negative

of the Italians.

Previous Section. Link to Book Room 
Next Section.

LinkExchange


This World Wide Web document is a personal research project motivated by the following claim: "Truth is the object of Knowledge of whatever kind; and when we inquire what is meant by Truth, I suppose it is right to answer that Truth means facts and their relations, which stand towards each other pretty much as subjects and predicates in logic. All that exists, as contemplated by the human mind, forms one large system or complex fact, and this of course resolves itself into an indefinite number of particular facts, which, as being portions of a whole, have countless relations of every kind, one towards another." (The Idea of a University, John Henry Newman, 1801-1890)


Top of Page