Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A gesture is a form of non-verbal communication made with a part of the body, and used instead of verbal communication (or in combination with it).
Gestures below with a sexual meaning are marked*.
A form of non-verbal communication
Many gestures have offensive import; the language of gesture is rich in ways for individuals to express contempt, hostility, or approval towards others. Most people use gestures and body language in addition to words when they speak; some ethnic groups and languages use them more than others do, and the amount of such gesturing that is considered culturally acceptable varies from one location to the next. These gestures include acts such as pointing, one of the few gestures whose meaning varies little from one country to the next, as well as using the hands and body to keep time with the rhythms of speech and emphasize certain words or phrases.
Most of these gestures have no invariable or specific meaning; the gestures listed below have such a meaning in the cultures in which they are found. The gestures we use as we speak are integrally connected to both our speech and our thought processes; prominent researchers in this field include Adam Kendon, Susan Goldin-Meadow and David McNeill .
Gesture as a mating ritual
This gesture is performed by raising the fist with the index finger and thumb extended. The index finger points at the recipient. The thumb is then brought down on top of the fingers.
Benediction & Blessing
The benediction gesture is a raised right hand with the ring and pinky fingers touching the palm, middle, and index fingers raised. It is used as a simple charm or blessing amongst many modern Pagans, and has a vast array of uses. Perhaps the most common and/or noteworthy use of the gesture is while tracing an invisible "air pentagram" before someone during certain Wiccan rituals such as the Great Rite performed during Beltane and Drawing Down the Moon on the Esbats. One might also use the gesture to trace invisible pentagrams or other sigils over items to be blessed or empowered, such as holy water, ritual wine , ritual ale , or the Sacred Herb. The two extended fingers are used to point (except when an athame, wand, or sword is used).
A variation on this sign, called the benediction gesture, is used by the Christian clergy to perform blessings with the sign of the cross; however Christians keep the thumb raised. It was shown by representations of Jesus as Pantocrator .
The fingers are kept straight and together in a horizontal fashion while the thumb is held out straight. The fingers and thumb then snap together repeatedly to suggest a mouth talking. It is used to indicate contempt for a person talking for an excessive period of time about nothing the gesturer feels is important.
This hand gesture is identical to the "shaka" gesture -- that is, pinky finger and thumb outstretched -- only it is held up to the ear, to signify a telephone.
This gesture, understood by waiters around the world to mean that a dinner patron wishes to pay the bill and depart, is executed by touching the index finger and thumb together and "writing" a wavy line in the air, as if to sign one's name. An alternate gesutre with the same meaning is made by holding touching the index finger and thumb together and drawing a checkmark (✓) in the air. In Japan, the symbol to request a check is often made by crossing the two hands together in the shape of T, which might be considered a sign for a time out in the United States.
A raised, clenched fist is used as a gesture of defiance by a number of groups. It is usually considered to be hostile, yet without any sexual, scatological, or notionally offensive connotations. It is especially associated with Communists and with other nationalist or ethnic revolutionary or would-be revolutionary movements, and with the Black Power movements of the 1960s in the United States. It is the custom to make this gesture while singing The Internationale, the Marxist anthem.
The index, middle, and ring fingers fully extended with the thumb and pinky tucked together under the palm. To Chaotes practicing Lovecraftian magick , this is also known as the Sign of the Elders.
It was also used by Bosnian Croats as a victory sign (for Trinity) during the Bosnian war .
The fig sign is the forming of a fist in such a way that one's thumb pokes out between the middle and index fingers, or, alternately, between the middle and ring fingers.
Many modern Pagans use it as a symbol of the Mother Goddess that adherents might use to identify each other; in this context it is referred to as the Sign of the Goddess. Its counterpart is the horns sign below.
- Main article: the finger
This is a fist with the middle finger extended. It appears to be universally understood as fuck you. Performing this gesture is also called "flipping the bird" (see below).
When this gesture is made with the palm facing forward, its known to Chaotes practicing Lovecraftian magick as the Sign of Kish.
Flipping the bird*
In countries where "the finger" is used (see above), "flipping the bird" usually refers to that gesture. In other regions, "flipping the bird" refers to the raising of the middle and index finger with the back of the hand directed at the recipient. It can mean "Victory" (see below) in some countries (not to be mistaken for the "Peace" gesture, which is done with the palm facing the recipient of the gesture), but in Britain and some other countries it is an offensive gesture, equivalent to "the finger" (see above). Also see V sign.
Hang loose / shaka
Similar to American Sign Language letter "Y", this is where a fist is made with only the thumb and pinky finger extended.
In Spain, if the thumb points to the mouth, it means "drinking" since it is similar the shape of a porrón vessel.
Hook 'em Horns
- Main article: Hook 'em Horns
In college sports in the United States, The "Hook 'em Horns" (or simply "Hook 'em") sign is associated with fans of the Texas Longhorns. The gesture is an imitation of the head of a Texas Longhorn, which serves as the school mascot. It was created in 1955 by a UT cheerleader and is one of the most famous hand symbols in US college sports.
Students, faculty, and alumni of the University of Texas are often seen to display this hand sign during sporting events, commencements, and other special occassions. They will often include the spoken or written phrase in conversations or writings, especially as a closing.
The Hook 'em Horns symbol is the same physically as the mano cornuto gesture. They both have their origins in the imitation of a type of livestock, the Longhorn on the one hand and a goat on the other, though their meanings are very different.
- Main article: Mano cornuto
Many modern Pagans use it as a symbol the Horned God that adherents might use to identify each other; in this context it is referred to as the Sign of the Horned God. Its counterpart is the fig sign above.
To Chaotes practicing Lovecraftian magick , it is called the Sign of Voor or the Voorish Sign.
Some say that it is meant to ward off – or to bestow – the evil eye. It is also a representation of the Devil by some Satanists. The gesture's origin is believed to be an imitation of the shape of a goats head, which has many associations with the concept of Satan in Christianity Satan's Goat
It has a variety of other meanings as well, depending on culture and area. In some places, it is a sexual insult, charging a man with being a victim of cuckoldry. Perhaps because of its occult significance, it is used as a salute by fans of heavy metal music. If one reverses the extended fingers, one gets the "inverted heavy metal salute" which can be given as a reply to a heavy metal salute, and combined together into a "heavy metal lock", intertwining the two hands thus presented. In addition, when this gesture used with the thumb extended and is positioned roughly horizontally, it is an imitation of Spider-Man's typical finger positioning when he fires one of his webshooters.
Knocking on wood
This signifies the neutralization of a jinxing brought on by either mentioning a hoped-for or feared result. Usually this is only valid if done on bare (ie. unpainted) wood.
In Italy, one knocks on iron with the hand in the horns position.
The index finger, middle finger, ring finger, and pinky fully extended with the thumb tucked against the flat of the hand. To Chaotes practicing Lovecraftian magick it is known as the Sign of Koth.
Live long and prosper
- Main article: Vulcan salute
The "live long and prosper" sign consists of the a raised hand, palm outward, fingers extended, with the index and middle finger kept close together, and the ring and pinky finger close together, with a 'V' shaped space between them.
It was introduced by Leonard Nimoy in his character of Mr. Spock and is drawn directly from the benedictory gesture made with both hands by a Kohen (priest in Judaism, a descendant of Aaron) during the priestly blessing (Hebrew: Birkath Kohanim). The Kohanim recite a blessing while performing this "gesture", and the other congregant respond with Amens.
The picture shown here is slightly inaccurate: the Vulcan salute is given with the thumb extended.
This is the touching of the index and middle finger (or just index finger) with the thumb (forming a rough circle) with the raising of the remaining fingers. In the United States, it means "OK" and is inoffensive. In most other cultures it is a sexual or scatological gesture referring to the anus. The gesture is used extensively in scuba diving as part of underwater hand signaling .
Peace / "V" for Victory
- Main article: V sign
This is the reverse side of "flipping the bird," made by lifting the middle and index finger with the palm of the hand facing the recipient (and the remaining fingers clenched). It was associated with the catchphrase "V" for Victory in World War II. In the 1960s, it came to be known as the "peace sign," the gestural equivalent of the peace symbol. It was associated with British prime minister Winston Churchill during World War II, and later, with U.S. president Richard Nixon. The sign also was famously misused by George H. W. Bush in Australia, where he intended to make the peace sign at protesters, but did it the "wrong way" causing great furor in the Australian tabloids. See also V sign.
There are many forms of salute gestures, which are used to denote respect or obedience for an authority. A common military hand salute consists of raising the right hand, held flat, to the right eyebrow. Scouting organizations use related salutes. The armies of various countries adopt slightly different forms of salute; in the United States, the military salute places the hand directed outward over the eyebrow, like a visor; in the United Kingdom armed forces, the hand is brought to the forehead palm outward.
Thumb and ring finger close inside palm while the rest of the fingers stay fully extended. It is a sign associated with a way of masturbating a woman: two fingers in the vagina (index and middle finger) and the pinky finger into the anus, or, as it is said, "Two in the pink, one in the stink."
Thumbs up, thumbs down
A closed fist held with the thumb extended upward or downward is a gesture of approval or disapproval respectively. These gestures have become metaphors in English: "My boss gave my proposal the thumbs-up" means that the boss approved the proposal, regardless of whether the gesture was made -- indeed, the gesture itself is unlikely in a business setting.
The source of the gesture is obscure. Though a favorite of Hollywood 'swords and sandals' epics, with the "thumbs down" symbol meaning that the loser should be put to the death, recent reserach suggests the meanings of the symbols have changed over the years. In 1997, University of Kansas classics professor Anthony Philip Corbeill concluded that the thumbs up actually meant 'Kill him,' basing his assertion on a study of hundreds of ancient artworks. Thus, the "thumbs up" was an approval of the gladiator's request to kill his vanguished foe than a vote to allow the defeated to remain alive. Corbell wrote that a closed fist with a wraparound thumb was the indication for a gladiator's life to be spared."
In Latin, the "thumbs up" gesture is called pollice recto, "thumbs down" is pollice verso. It is not certain that the contemporary gestures are identical to the gestures performed in ancient Rome. The current version was popularized by a widely reproduced academic painting by the 19th century artist Jean-Léon Gérôme, whose Pollice Verso depicts a triumphant gladiator standing over a fallen foe, looking up into the bleachers for the verdict of the crowd.
Additionally, Desmond Morris' Gestures: Their Origins and Distribution traces the practice back to a medieval custom used to seal business transactions... Over time, the mere sight of an upraised thumb came to symbolize harmony and kind feelings... The gesture's popularization in America is generally attributed to the practices of World War II pilots, who used the thumbs up to communicate with ground crews prior to take-off. American GIs are reputed to have picked up on the thumb and spread it throughout Europe as they marched toward Berlin." 
More recently, these gestures are associated with movie reviews, having been popularized by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert in their televised reviews -- the thumb up meaning a positive opinion of a film; the thumb down meaning a negative one. One or two thumbs up, often held over the head, may also be used by athletes in celebration of a victory.
"'Thumbs up' traditionally translates as the foulest of Iraqi insults—the most straightforward interpretation is 'Up yours, pal!' The sign has a similarly pejorative meaning in parts of West Africa, Russia, Australia, Iran, Greece, and Sardinia, according to Roger E. Axtell's book Gestures: The Do's and Taboos of Body Language Around the World."
Wanker: A loose fist (with all fingers forming a cylindrical shape) is made, and shaken up and down (or sometimes, back and forth) at the wrist.
This gesture involves holding the backs of the wrists against the jawline (with elbows outstretched) and then waggling one's fingers. It is used when one would normally say (sarcastically) "well aren't you clever?". It is peculiar to Scotland owing to its use in a Scottish TV sketch show.
Italian elbow gesture*
This is performed in two parts: first, the right hand is placed on the elbow of the left arm. The left arm is then raised (fist clenched) at the victim in a smooth and continuous motion. This gesture is associated with Italians and is a considered a more theatrical and physically exuberant version of The Finger, and may even be combined with The Finger by Italian-Americans. This gesture is also in use in France, where it is usually translated as va te faire foutre, still meaning "fuck off." In Spain, it is a corte de mangas ("sleeve cut") and is done with the left hand on the right elbow, without the continuous motion.
The gesture above is known in Poland as Kozakiewicz's gesture (gest Kozakiewicza), after Polish pole vault jumper Władysław Kozakiewicz , who after winning the gold medal and beating the world record during the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow had shown this gesture to the Russian public at the stadium. The crowd supported Soviet jumper Volkov (who came second) and was booing and whistling during Kozakiewicz's performance. Angered Kozakiewicz, after securing the gold medal, showed said gesture to the stadium. He later beat the then world record by clearing 578 cm. The meaning of this gesture is slightly different from the one it has in Italy. Its meaning can be translated as Fuck off, I am the boss. 
"T" for 'timeout'
The 'timeout' gesture - a 'T' formed with the hands, with one hand with flat palm placed perpendicular to the other hand with flat palm, roughly in the center - originates in American sports. It was (and is) used where a brief pause in play is called for, to make substitutions etc. Nowadays the gesture is used in the US and in Britain to hush children, or calm participants in a heated argument. In Japan, the same gesture may be used to request the check when dining at a restaurant (see also Check, Please, above).
Hand with Body Gestures
Bowing, kneeling, kowtowing
A bow is a gesture of respect involving lowering the head, usually performed by a social inferior to a social superior. Various cultures have different degrees or ways of performing the bow; China and Japan are particularly associated with elaborate and formal bowing. Bowing is also done by many groups as a ritual associated with prayer. In the Western world, women curtsey rather than bow. Kneeling and "kowtowing" are more extreme or elaborate forms of self-abasement before a social superior.
- Main article: Sign of the cross
This gesture is used by Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and some other Christian groups in prayers, to perform blessings, and as a salute before entering a church or similar place of religious significance. It is also used in various kinds of Christian folk religion to avert evil or bad luck.
Hand over heart
This gesture involves placing your right hand, palm outstretched and facing in, over your heart. Male hat or cap wearers typically remove their hats and hold them in this hand. It is used as a gesture of respect towards flags or during singing of a national anthem. In the United States, it is also performed as a part of the rituals of the Pledge of Allegiance.
This gesture is performed by drawing the hand, or a finger or two, across the throat. It represents slitting the throat with a knife, and means that the gesturer or someone else is (metaphorically!) "being killed". It is rarely if ever used literally to refer to death. It can also mean simply "Cut! Stop!" as in scissors sign .
The standard gesture to indicate that one is choking is to hold the throat as if strangling oneself. This is recognized as a request for immediate first aid for choking. The gesture is sometimes used metaphorically to refer to someone or something "choking" in the slang sense of failing at something, for instance at an athletic event.
For this gesture, also known as "cocking a snoot", the thumb is placed on the tip of the nose, with the remaining fingers of the hand extended and waggled freely. This gesture is ended with a dramatic flicking of the thumb away from the end of the nose and towards the recipient. In the United States, it conveys a general message of contempt.
To add emphasis, the gesture can be made using both hands, connecting them by touching the little finger of the first hand with the thumb of the second, and waggling the remaining seven fingers. It is frequently accompanied in the United States by the utterance of a Bronx cheer, or by sticking out of the tounge.
This gesture is performed by making a fist with the right hand and placing it over the heart, thumping the chest, then by extending the whole right arm, palm outstretched and facing down, upwards into the air at approximately a 45 degree angle from the ground. This gesture is associated with Nazism and its leader Adolf Hitler as well as with Germany during World War II. It is occasionally performed to mock someone or something for perceived authoritarianism. This gesture was based on the Roman salute, and it was in that capacity that it was revived by Benito Mussolini's Fascist party; it is now tainted by its association with Nazism and Fascism. Today in many countries it is forbidden by law to perform this gesture.
Body Only Gestures
This is when a person moves their pupils to the top of their eyes to indicate condescension, boredom, or exasperation.
Mooning is the exposure of the buttocks towards a person or people. The mooner (usually male) opens his pants, turns around to face away from the target, and drops the pants while bending over. Mooning is a crude gesture of contempt or defiance.
- Publications by Adam Kendon (field data, research techniques and theory of gesture and sign languages)
- Handspeak Sign languages, gestures, body languages, Baby Sign, International Sign, and more.
- Kendon, Adam. editor, 1981. Nonverbal Communication, Interaction and Gesture: Selections from Semiotica (Vol.41, Approaches to Semiotics). The Hague: Mouton and Co. [Includes as an Introduction by Kendon an extended critical survey of methodological and theoretical issues in the field].
- Kendon, Adam. 1997. Gesture. Annual Review of Anthropology, 1997, 26: 109-128.
- Kendon, Adam. 2000. Gesture in Naples and Gesture in Classical Antiquity. An English translation, with an Introductory Essay and Notes of La mimica degli antichi investigata nel gestire Napoletano ('Gestural expression of the ancients in the light of neapolitan gesturing') by Andrea de Jorio (1832). Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.
- Kendon, Adam. 2004. Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance.: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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