If someone gives a derivation of a formula in math, physics, etc. without justifying the steps, you can say in English that the person is giving a "handwaving argument" or "this step is handwaving". How is that idea expressed in Russian?

Background: Some time ago I asked a native speaker about this but I no longer remember the answer and don't know where to find it. The English Wikipedia page on "handwaving" has no Russian analogue. If I type "This argument is handwaving" into Google Translate then the translation is "Этот аргумент handwaving", which seems wrong.

EDIT: On a recent visit to Russia I asked this question and was told by several people that the term is рукомашество, and that this particular usage of the word is recent.

  • Have you tried translating it yourself? What did you get? According to the Faq we're elaborating, we're going to ask people to show some research effort for translation requests. :)
    – Alenanno
    Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 0:29
  • @Alenanno: I added some background detail to the question.
    – KCd
    Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 0:40
  • I'm closing the question because it generates a lot of answers, each of which can actually be used depending on the situation. Maybe @KCd may consider choosing an answer of one that are suggested below?
    – Olga
    Commented Sep 6, 2012 at 17:32
  • 3
    @Olga I think it is incorrect to close a question simply because it generates a lot of answers. As long as the answers are good and meaningful, the questions remain open, at least on other sites. Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 1:58
  • @dasblinkenlight I asked other mods to have a look, too. I personally think that the question is too broad.
    – Olga
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 13:40

10 Answers 10


As noted above, there is no direct translation in general. In most cases, however, some common expressions do exists. Here are some

  • When someone makes bold statement without actual meaning behind it, one can say Это абракадабра.

  • when someone imitates work without doing it, one can say Это имитация бурной деятельности.

  • when someone needs his in-game/literature character to stat something, looking like scientific explanation of in-game fact, he tries to make наукообразное объяснение

  • When some steps are omitted, they say Опустим для ясности

  • When some steps are described without formal definition, they say Опишем необходимые для доказательства шаги

  • As said earlier, этот шаг мутный (необоснованный) in case if step is not fully formalized is also valid expression.

note: рукомашество does not have idiomatic meaning in general (may be locally it does have this meaning), it is simply размахивание руками. Sometimes idiom рукомашество и дрыгоножество may mark martial art or dances in dismissive context.


I guess you can use непрозрачный (non-transparent) - that exactly means that there seems to be a derivation, but since some of that derivation details are not laid out clearly you can't put all the pieces together without any doubt.

An alternative to that would be мутный ("muddy"), that can mean that the derivation is suspicious and unclear, but this adjective is not for formal use (although it is not rude either) and has strong negative connotation. For example, if you're an expert and a court asks you to inspect a derivation and present an expert report then you can write in the report that отдельные этапы доказательства непрозрачны (certain steps of derivation are non-transparent), but you can't write отдельные этапы доказательства мутны (literally certain steps of derivation are "muddy") although if a fellow experts asks your opinion you can use the latter wording when speaking to him - something like вот этот этап какой-то мутный (literally this step is rather "muddy").


I doubt that Russian have exactly the same metaphorical meaning for waving hands. I have two different suggestions based on two different understandings of this term.

If it is "applied to debate techniques that involve logical fallacies", it can be described as "необоснованный, бездоказательный".

Wikipedia says that "It is also used in working situations where productive work is expected, but no work is actually accomplished." The best translation here is показная работа, or показуха, its colloquial variant.

  • 1
    Thank you, but this isn't the sense of handwaving (in debate or work) that I had in mind, but rather a kind of informal argument that a physicist might use where, say, the order of some iterated integral is reversed or a limit is passed from outside to inside a summation without caring about whether the techniques are really justified (sorry if the description of the handwaving I intended sounds technical).
    – KCd
    Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 11:35
  • Oh I see. You can refer to this as неаккуратный or небрежный. This would mean something like "because there are so many things that look messy or are not taken care of, it is probable that there is a mistake".
    – Olga
    Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 11:44
  • 1
    I didn't meant that the argument is actually wrong in its conclusions, or suspected to lead to something that is false, but that certain levels of detail are swept under the rug. The word небрежный (careless) is good to know, though, and I hadn't seen that before.
    – KCd
    Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 12:00
  • 2
    Небрежный sounds more negative than неформальный Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 14:01
  • 1
    небрежный means sloppy rather than sketchy Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 14:05

"Голословный" (literally, empty-worded) has a reasonably close meaning:

Доказательство пестрит голословными утверждениями. (The proof is full of handwaving.)

There is also an expression "лить воду", which means "to talk without substance":

Вместо содержательной речи он сорок минут лил воду. (Instead of a meaningful speech he delivered forty minutes of handwaving.)


First of all, there is no direct translation. In each case you will need to translate it differently, depending on the context.

Wiki says :

Handwaving is a pejorative label applied to the action of displaying the appearance of doing something, when actually doing little, or nothing.

Now, assuming you want such a meaning, you can use

"Создавать иллюзию деятельности" or "Создавать видимость деятельности" which literaly translates to "Create an appearance (or visibility) of action(or work)". A common phrase would also be "создавать видимость бурной деятельности". You can use this when you, for example, want to describe someone who is doing nothing at work, but tries to pretend he is working hard when his boss comes by:

"Он целый день сидел и создавал иллюзию бурной деятельности" >(literally)> For the whole day he was just sitting there and creating an appearance of hard work.

Now, for the debate. Wiki says:

Handwaving is also occasionally used in informal debate or discussion. If the opponent in a debate uses the term, it is meant as a shorthand way to accuse the proponent in the debate of having committed a logical fallacy. In this sense, it is also as if a participant is waving their hands to obscure clear debate, as a verbal or logical smoke screen.

The part about "smoke screen" is easy, you can say that the opponent is trying to "запутать", "создать дымовую завесу" (which would be a literal translation), or, if you want a colloquial form, "запудрить мозги".

As for the other parts of the wiki article, I can't really come with a short (or, possibly, one-word) translation for them.

As for your example:

If someone gives a derivation of a formula in math, physics, etc. without justifying the > steps, you can say in English that the person is giving a "handwaving argument" or "this step is handwaving"

I suppose the meaning here is close to "unclear", "unobvious" or "ambiguous". In this case you can say "неочевидный", or "неясный" which is not a literal translation, but suits well f you are talking about, say, a math formula:

This step of the deduction is handwaving >> "Этот шаг доказательства неочевиден."

  • +1 for запудрить мозги since "handwaving" implies a deliberate attempt to confuse
    – David42
    Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 12:12

One can try объяснить на пальцах but it suggests simplicity of explanation (and implies lack of rigour) and is not necessarily as negative as "hand-waving". Internet also suggests "пассы" referring to magician's tricks but I have never actually heard it.

  • 1
    In my experience, 'на пальцах' means 'simple and eay to understand', doesn't seem to match 'handwaving' at all.
    – kotekzot
    Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 3:35
  • I agree with @kotekzot. handwaving points in a different direction from объяснять на пальцах.
    – StasK
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 22:40

There's pretty direct translation for "to handwave something", with meaning "give a quick response without much thought". It would be "отмахнуться" in Russian, though, of course, you'd have to adapt usage to different contexts.

  • While both "handwaving" and "отмахнуться" refer to movements of the hand, they are different movements and mean different things. Отмахнуться means "to swat away". It figuratively describes a response to an objection which someone has raised. In contrast "handwaving" means "махание рук". Figuratively it means empty expressions (пафос, голословие) which fill gaps in the argument.
    – David42
    Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 12:07

Yet another Russian scientific jargonism that would convey the meaning of handwaving is the noun прикидка and the verb прикинуть, although arguably they would better correspond to the American back of the envelope calculation idiom. This best works in a dialogue:

[English referee] The steps from (2.12) to (2.13) are handwaving.

[Russian author] Ну, я примерно прикинул, что так должно получиться.


I've seen пассы руками in this context. I'm pretty sure the usage was modeled after English. Russian mathematicians seem to just use the English word, as it's more concise and expressive.

  • I tried to check initially if a direct transliteration is used (e.g., I know they use the word бэкграунд when indicating the background for the topic of a talk), but хэндвавинг didn't return anything. I just tried хэндвейвинг, but that gives only 8 hits on Google and 0 hits on Yandex. How is the word spelled?
    – KCd
    Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 17:42
  • They usually write it in English. You can search for handwaving together with доказательство. Not a lot of hits but there are some.
    – user248
    Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 17:51
  • Oh, I see. Under those circumstances maybe it should make sense that it is spoken much more often than written down.
    – KCd
    Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 18:07
  • To my knowledge expression делать пассы руками has different origin. Stage magicians often makes complex gestures to fix public attention in wrong place. And the term for such gestures is пассы
    – permeakra
    Commented Aug 12, 2012 at 16:09
  • @permeakra: magician's gestures are probably the origin of the English term too.
    – user248
    Commented Aug 12, 2012 at 16:42

If it like useless, то бесполезный.

If it like without logic in answer, only empty words, то пустословный.

If it like answer only with gesticulation - no short word for it. Типа "разводя руками", "постоянно жестикулируя"

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