Sunday, July 02, 2006
The English must learn to shrug it off (according to Darwin, the French already do, which may prove handy).
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.
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.
Darwin, Charles - The expression of the emotions in man and animals, London, John Murray, 1872(page 265).You may read it here.