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A wink is a facial expression made by briefly closing one eye. A wink is an informal mode of non-verbal communication usually signaling shared hidden knowledge or intent.


General overview and meanings

Winking is one of the more subtle gestures, usually involving eye contact between those involved. In most cases it is only meant to be known by the sender and his or her intended receiver(s), but in some cases can be more widely intended.

Single wink

A single wink is usually a friendly gesture implying a degree of solidarity and/or intimacy.

Shared secret knowledge

A typical use of the wink is to quietly send a message that third parties are not aware of. For example, while person A is lying to person B or deliberately teasing him, he might wink at person C as a means of indicating the fact to C and incorporating him in the "conspiracy". Alternatively, if person A is joking or teasing person B in a friendly way, person A may wink directly at person B as a way to suggest to him that his own (A's) words are to be taken as a joke. It is also possible for person A to use winking in order to secretly imply to person B that the words or actions of some third party should not be taken seriously (for example, because the third party is joking or lying).


A wink could also be used as a somewhat humorous way to express sympathy, solidarity and encouragement, especially when the winker is trying to put the receiver at ease in a situation where they might feel nervous or uncomfortable. In such cases the meaning of a wink is not unlike that of a "thumbs up".


In some cultures it is often a sexual interest, or flirtatious manner, during momentary eye contact. This is often followed by a smile, and usually a smile from the receiver, if it is accepted/approved, or combined with blushing if they are embarrassed. A smile from the receiver sometimes—but not always—indicates (sexual) interest in the winker.

Double wink

Like a single wink but more emphatic, two winks in a row may be used by the sender as a subtle way to imply that something said by the sender, immediately beforehand, was "sneaky", "tricky", "misleading", or "untrue" to the receiver. In English-speaking countries, this has also given rise to the expression of vocally saying "wink wink" while winking, or sometimes while not even winking at all - in this case, the sender is not communicating the "trickiness" of his words to a third party, but to the receiver, and is thus signalling that his words should not be taken literally but as a hint or euphemism.

Both eyes (bat/flutter)

To close and open, or "wink", both eyes is usually an involuntary action known as a "blink". Though if done intentionally, in a particular way (such as once slowly or a few times in a row quickly), while giving a sweet or suggestive look with the eyes, often with the head tilted or at an angle in combination with the shoulders, is known as to "bat an eyelash", "bat/batting eyelashes", or "flutter/fluttering eyelashes". This is most commonly done by girls, as a way of flirting, showing interest, or in an attempt to persuade the receiver.

The "click"

In addition to the traditional "wink", a "clicking" sound is made with the side of the tongue and gums, with particular emphasis on timing the "click" with the "wink" at exactly the same time. The "click" is typically used to signify agreement or satisfaction.

Cultural specific differences

The West

As explained above, winking in Western culture can be used as a way of letting someone else know that the winker or some other person is joking or lying (e.g., a mother tells her child a story about a fairy princess, and she then winks at the child's older sibling, the sibling thus knows the mother is lying to the younger child). It may also be used to communicate sexual intentions, ranging from flirtation to an explicit invitation.

Latin America

In some Latin American cultures, winking may also be a romantic or sexual invitation.


In China and reportedly to some extent in India, winking may be seen as an offensive gesture.

However, winking in the Indian subcontinent often has similar connotations as in the West. It can be used to signal an "inside" joke, a sly gesture shared between two people privately, unbeknownst to those around them, as in a social gathering. It can also be a naughty "come on" by a girl to a boy or vice versa.

When Frederick Spencer Chapman was training Chinese guerillas in Malaya to shoot rifles, he found that a large proportion of them were unable to close only one eye at a time.


West African parents may wink to signal children to leave the room, especially when there is a guest, or another adult coming in. It is considered rude for children to stay in a room where adults or elders want to have a conversation, and so winking is used as a more discreet way to tell the children to leave the room. Parents also try not to embarrass themselves in front of guests, because their children do not understand immediately when it is time to leave the room.

Noted examples

  • In the famous Monty Python sketch Nudge Nudge, a younger man slyly asks an older gentleman about sex through innuendo, reiterating the phrase "nudge nudge wink wink" after his questions in an attempt to indicate that his innocent-sounding questions are intended to be double entendres, i.e., of a sexual nature.
  • In an episode of the television series Seinfeld (The Wink), the character George Costanza has problems when grapefruit pulp gets into his eyes, leading to his involuntary winks getting misinterpreted by others.
  • During a Quarter Final match of the 2006 World Cup between England and Portugal, Wayne Rooney was sent off, largely due to an impassioned argument from Cristiano Ronaldo. After Rooney's sending off, Ronaldo was caught on camera winking to the Portuguese bench. This received widespread criticism from the English press, who largely saw it as a sign of conspiracy from the Portuguese player.
  • During the 2008 United States vice-presidential debate, Republican candidate Sarah Palin winked at the audience several times. Her behaviour was considered to be highly unusual in the context of a formal political debate and received considerable media attention. While some conservative pundits defended Palin, other individuals were critical of and even offended by her conduct.
  • In online dating, a 'wink' is a way of communicating approval of another member (sometimes from a non-member) without sending email. It is used at sites such as

Physiological ability

Not all humans are able to wink voluntarily, and some can only wink one (usually the non-dominant) eye. Others are far better at winking one eye and find it awkward to wink the other.


Some people, especially children and adolescents, show a habit of winking involuntarily under stress, often without their own knowledge. It is considered a symptom of Tourette Syndrome.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Wink" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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