Mon Mar 3 13:00:01 PST 2003

Ever since I was a wee lad, I've wondered exactly what a shrug is. Is it 
the raising of one's shoulders and, perhaps, the accompanying 
downward-turned mouth and raised eyebrows? Or is it something else 
entirely? Could the verb "to shrug" be completely ambiguous, and perhaps 
refer to some unseen state of mind rather than a visible action?

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary ((c) 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.) 
says the following:

     \Shrug\, v. i. To raise or draw up the shoulders, as in expressing
     dislike, dread, doubt, or the like.

This leads me to believe that the standard definition of "shrug" is a 
visible, physical raising of the shoulders, and this brings me to my 
next question, which is: who shrugs?

I don't think I've ever shrugged in my life, except maybe when I was a 
shy little kid and strange adults asked me how old I was. I can't 
remember the last time I saw someone else shrug.

And this leads me to my next question: why are authors so inexplicably 
fond of the shrug? Various authors utilize the shrug to varying degrees, 
but our own Mr. Brust seems to hold a great affinity for it. I've never 
undertaken the task, but I suspect that if one were to count the number 
of times a character shrugs in each Brust book, then total the results, 
the number you'd get would be enormous. The only other author I can 
think of who uses the shrug to the same degree as Steven Brust is Steven 
Gould. Is there perhaps some kind of shrug conspiracy among 
sci-fi/fantasy writers named Steven?

Especially confusing are instances when a character is described as 
being enraged or angry, then shrugging, such as in _Jhereg_ after Aliera 
and Morrolan argue when Vlad tells them of the situation with regards to 
Mellar. It seems to me that the shrug is a very lighthearted expression, 
and not one that would normally be used by someone who is angry or 
upset. Even the fact that Aliera or Morrolan would *ever* shrug, under 
any circumstances, is a little hard to imagine.

So the question that has been keeping me up at night is: what, exactly, 
is a shrug as Steven Brust defines it, and under what circumstances is 
it appropriate?

Ryan Grove
ryan at wonko.com