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uk/blog/2007/09/24/top-10-hand-gestures/---(The top ten hand gestures youd better get


The top ten hand gesture youd better get right

September 24, 2007 at 10:30 am · Filed under Cultural differences, Unspoken · Posted by Dave

Anybody remember when George H W Bush tried to signal ‘peace’ during a visit to Australia in the 90s by giving a huge
crowd the time-honoured two-fingered salute? Though he didn’t know it at the time, he was actually telling the whole
crowd to go screw themselves - and all because he made the seemingly innocuous error that his palm was facing inwards
instead of outwards.

Nacho highlighted the danger of using certain hand gestures when travelling in an earlier post, as some have very
different meanings in some countries from what we as Westerners believe them to stand for. Let’s take a look, shall we?

1. The “Wanker”
This one actually has a universal meaning; it was just too good not to include in any compilation of hand gestures. There
aren’t many places on earth where you could get away with frantically fist-pumping at somebody - I’d imagine because
masturbating’s the same wherever you go. Even in Japan.

Particularly popular with fans at football matches to taunt opposition players, Tony Blair famously copped a bit of embarrassment
when the uncensored version of a photograph of him during his Oxford University days was shown on BBC2’s Newsnight: a photo
that had later been photoshopped by the supplying press agency to cover up Blair’s rude – and delightfully unambiguous – hand
gesture. Yes, Tony. You are.

Interestingly, in Greece and Portugal the gesture is made with the palm facing the ground, implying that the person is
rather fonder of wanking other men as opposed to himself.

2. The “Thumbs-Up”
First of all, let’s quash the urban legend of the ‘thumbs-up/thumbs-down’ being used by the audience in the Roman
coliseum to vote on the life or death of a defeated gladiator, as furthered by such movies as Gladiator and Spartacus.
There’s no evidence for this, and it’s just massively unlikely. Sorry.

While Western culture has become used to the thumbs-up as a positive, informal signal, generally indicating a job well
done (probably stemming from World War II pilots using the signal to communicate that they were “good to go” with
ground crews), there are cultures where a thumbs-up may land you in trouble. In most of Latin America and West Africa,
as well as Greece, Russia, Sardinia and the south of Italy, the thumbs-up basically means the same as the middle
finger: “sit on it and swivel”. Also, it’s generally not recommended to use the thumbs-up around the Middle East as it’s
pretty much the biggest insult out there – and even worse if you pull off the emphatic version with both hands - so no
Fonzie impressions, please.

Rather more charming is a thumbs-up in Germany and in the less-Westernised areas of Japan – they just see it as the
hand signal for the number one. Bless.

3. The “Moutza”
Opening your palm to your target and stretching out your fingers seems harmless enough to most Westerners. Most of us
would think you’re waving. In Greece, however, the gesture is known as a moutza, and is one of their most traditional
manual insults. With fingers slightly apart, you thrust your hand into your target’s face, usually coupling the gesture with a
brash “na!”, meaning “here you go!”. The basic suggestion is something like “eat shit”, implying that you’re not particularly
impressed and would rather the target of the moutza leave you alone – comparable to the American interpretation of the
same signal as “talk to the hand, because the face isn’t listening”.

The gesture is also an insulting one in Pakistan and many parts of Africa. The Japanese use a very similar sign to insult
their old enemies, the Koreans. Roughly translating as ‘animal’, the signal is similar to the moutza in every way except
they tuck the thumb into the palm.

Amusingly, Microsoft used to use a very similar-looking hand signal as an icon for warning dialogs in previous versions of
Windows – what Greek users must have thought of that, I don’t know… “This application has performed an illegal
operation - now, eat shit!”.

4. The “Dog Call”

Curling your index finger towards you in a summoning motion is a gesture generally linked with seductive temptresses in
Hollywood movies, beckoning for their targeted men to follow them into another room.

Beware, however, of using this gesture in the Philippines – it’s a method of communication considered worthy only to use
on dogs, and is actually punishable by arrest. Worst of all, they’ll break your index finger in order to prevent you from
committing the same crime again!
5. The “A-OK”
Mainly used by scuba divers to mean “OK” (to prevent ambiguity with the thumbs-up sign, which means “ascend”), this
hand gesture is generally called ‘A-OK’, and in America and the UK is often used to tell somebody that they’ve made a
great meal, as talking with your mouth would just be impolite. Essentially the meaning comes out as “great”, or “absolutely

Not so, however, in a few countries in Europe, where the numerical interpretation gives the signal an insulting overtone –
essentially you’re telling them that you think they’re a ‘zero’.

Far worse, however, is the meaning in Brazil, Germany and a few Mediterranean countries: the circular shape of the
gesture gives it the meaning of “anus”, and is therefore used to call somebody an “asshole”, or, by extension, a

6. The “Cutis”
While there isn’t really an equivalent in Western culture, the cutis in Indian and Pakistani culture is basically a thumbs-
up, except you push the nail on your thumb against your front teeth and flick, while saying “cutta!”. It basically amounts to
“screw you”, and famously appeared in the media when Pakistani fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar made the gesture in
Melbourne as he left the field for a rain delay during the 2004 test series against Australia.

7. The “V Sign”
The age-old ‘V sign’ comes in two formats: one with the palm faced outwards, and one with the palm inwards. In America
the two hand signals mean the same thing – ‘victory’, as popularised by Richard Nixon, or ‘peace and love’, which
seemed to become the primary meaning after anti-Vietnam protesters used it during the 60s.

However, if the outside of your hand is facing your target, you’re giving somebody a long-established insult in Great
Britain and many English-speaking countries such as Australia, Ireland and New Zealand. Winston Churchill famously
used the ‘incorrect’ version of the V sign during the early years of the war, switching round later when he’d been told by
his advisors that he wasn’t exactly giving the lower social orders a positive message. The V sign is also considered rude
in Italy, especially if you place your nose between the two fingers, making the gesture resemble a crude vagina.

I myself have almost seen a fight start as a result of an American tourist ordering drinks in an English pub: when asked
how many pints he wanted, he simply stuck two fingers up and looked straight into the eyes of the barman – perfectly
normal on the other side of the Atlantic (it’s actually the signal for the number 2 in American Sign Language), but it’s
fighting talk to the British.

8. The “Fig”
Nothing more than a fist with the thumb poking out from between the index and middle fingers, the mano fico (literally ‘fig
hand’) is a gesture of Roman origin, used as a positive gesture to encourage good luck and fertility, and ward away the
‘evil eye’. The sexual nuance comes from from the hand’s resemblance to the female private parts (fica is actually Italian
slang for “vulva”), with the nub of the thumb representing the clitoris.

There seems to be a lack of positive meaning to this sign these days, however. If you’re doing the ‘fig’, it probably means
you’re denoting a letter T in American Sign Language. But if somebody else is giving you the same gesture (especially if
they are of the Asian persuasion), they’re probably giving you a rather disparaging insult, roughly equivalent to “fuck you!”.
This hand sign is also highly disparaging to Italians and Turks, and in India would be taken as a threatening gesture.
Most non-deaf Americans or Brits, however, would simply see the mano fico as a bizarre-looking fist.

9. The “Corna”
Consisting of a clenched fist with the second and fifth fingers straightened out, the corna (‘horns’) hand gesture has most
recently been adopted by fans of rock and heavy metal music, first used by Black Sabbath vocalist Ronnie James Dio.
The gesture carries only a vague meaning, implying the presence of Satan, malevolence and loud guitar music, and is
used in much the same way as headbanging. The gesture was actually popularised as a Satanic salute during the 1960s,
appearing in many editions of the Satanic Bible. Nowadays many Americans use the gesture simply to mean “rock on”, or
in support of the University of Texas in Austin (known as the “Hook ‘em Horns”).

Occasionally used by baseball players to indicate “two outs”, the corna is actually a positive hand gesture in Buddhism
and Hinduism, known as the Karana Mudra in such circles, and is used to dispel evil – an interestingly opposite meaning
to its contemporary significance.

Historically, however, the symbol basically means “cuckold” (or rather, “your wife is cheating on you”), and its origins are
Mediterranean, possibly dating back to Ancient Greece. The corna is still popular in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Colombia,
Brazil, Albania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, and seems to be used most often to disagree with football referees -
perhaps their wives are taking advantage of their husband’s occupation to score with hunky football players - though only
when the referee make an incorrect decision, of course…

10. “The Finger”

Most likely derived from Ancient Greece, ‘the finger’ is one of the most widespread obscene gestures throughout the
Western world. In a handful of Mediterranean and Arab countries the index finger is preferred to the middle, but the
meaning remains crystal clear. There are a myriad of different stories for the origin of the finger (going back as far as 2500
years), making mention of Greek tragedies, phallic representation, perverse Roman emperors, English longbowmen, and
annoyed deaf people - but we just don’t know.

Also known as the ‘flip-off’, the ‘bird’, the ‘highway salute’, ‘digitus impudicus’ and the ‘One-Fingered Victory Salute’
(thanks to President Bush’s famous TV blooper), the middle finger is probably the most universally-understood hand
gesture in the world. This is owed mostly to its age, the sheer simplicity of the gesture, as well as the human
preoccupation with somehow relating everything back to sexual organs.

Of course there are regional differences, from half-extending the second and fourth fingers (no doubt to represent the
‘balls’ either side of the middle finger ‘dick’) or combining the finger with another rude gesture, to being as creative as
holding up your middle three fingers and telling your target to “read between the lines”.

So, there you have it - ten of the most popular (and most globally misunderstood) hand gestures, in all their glory. I’ll end
this post by offering the same advice Nacho did in his post - the best idea when travelling abroad is probably to keep both
hands pinned to your sides.

Non-verbal Communication
When Demosthenes was asked what was the first part of oratory he answered, "'action"; and
which was the second, he replied, "action"; and which was third he still answered, "action."
People tend to believe actions more than words!

Have you ever heard anyone say, "His actions spoke so loudly I couldn't hear what he said?"
Have you ever wondered whether anyone has said this about you? What we do is a means of
communication, subject to interpretation by others. Did you ever stop to think that even failure to
act is a way of communicating?

Today, many researchers are concerned with the information sent by communication that is
independent of and different from verbal information; namely, the non-verbal communication.
Verbal communication is organized by language; non-verbal communication is not.

Communication is the transfer of information from one person to another. Most of us spend about
75 percent of our waking hours communicating our knowledge, thoughts, and ideas to others.
However, most of us fail to realize that a great deal of our communication is of a non-verbal form
as opposed to the oral and written forms. Non-verbal communication includes facial expressions,
eye contact, tone of voice, body posture and motions, and positioning within groups. It may also
include the way we wear our clothes or the silence we keep.

In person-to-person communications our messages are sent on two levels simultaneously. If the
nonverbal cues and the spoken message are incongruous, the flow of communication is
hindered. Right or wrong, the receiver of the communication tends to base the intentions of the
sender on the non- verbal cues he receives.

Categories and Features

G. W. Porter divides non-verbal communication into four broad categories:

Physical. This is the personal type of communication. It includes facial expressions, tone of voice,
sense of touch, sense of smell, and body motions.

Aesthetic. This is the type of communication that takes place through creative expressions:
playing instrumental music, dancing, painting and sculpturing.

Signs. This is the mechanical type of communication, which includes the use of signal flags, the
21-gun salute, horns, and sirens.

Symbolic. This is the type of communication that makes use of religious, status, or ego-building
Our concern here will be with what Porter has called the physical method of non-verbal

Knowledge of non-verbal communication is important managers who serve as leaders of

organizational "teams," for at least two reasons:

• To function effectively as a team leader the manager must interact with the other
members successfully. Non-verbal cues, when interpreted correctly, provide him with one
means to do so.

• The team members project attitudes and feelings through non-verbal communication.
Some personal needs such as approval, growth, achievement, and recognition may be
met in effective teams. The extent to which these needs are met is closely related to how
perceptive the team leader and team members are to non-verbal communication in
themselves and in others on the team.

If the team members show a true awareness to non-verbal cues, the organization will have a
better chance to succeed, for it will be an open, honest, and confronting unit. Argyle and his
associates have been studying the features of nonverbal communication that provide information
to managers and their team members. The following summarizes their findings:

Static Features

Distance. The distance one stands from another frequently conveys a non-verbal message. In
some cultures it is a sign of attraction, while in others it may reflect status or the intensity of the

Orientation. People may present themselves in various ways: face-to-face, side-to-side, or even
back-to-back. For example, cooperating people are likely to sit side-by-side while competitors
frequently face one another.

Posture. Obviously one can be lying down, seated, or standing. These are not the elements of
posture that convey messages. Are we slouched or erect ? Are our legs crossed or our arms
folded ? Such postures convey a degree of formality and the degree of relaxation in the
communication exchange.

Physical Contact. Shaking hands, touching, holding, embracing, pushing, or patting on the back
all convey messages. They reflect an element of intimacy or a feeling of (or lack of) attraction.

Dynamic Features

Facial Expressions. A smile, frown, raised eyebrow, yawn, and sneer all convey information.
Facial expressions continually change during interaction and are monitored constantly by the
recipient. There is evidence that the meaning of these expressions may be similar across

Gestures. One of the most frequently observed, but least understood, cues is a hand movement.
Most people use hand movements regularly when talking. While some gestures (e.g., a clenched
fist) have universal meanings, most of the others are individually learned and idiosyncratic.

Looking. A major feature of social communication is eye contact. It can convey emotion, signal
when to talk or finish, or aversion. The frequency of contact may suggest either interest or

The above list shows that both static features and dynamic features transmit important
information from the sender to the receiver.
Tortoriello, Blott, and DeWine have defined non-verbal communication as:

". . . the exchange of messages primarily through non-linguistic means, including: kinesics (body
language), facial expressions and eye contact, tactile communication, space and territory,
environment, paralanguage (vocal but non-linguistic cues), and the use of silence and time."

Let's review these non-linguistic ways of exchanging messages in more detail.

Lamb believes the best way to access an executive's managerial potential is not to listen to what
he has to say, but to observe what he does when he is saying it. He calls this new behavioral
science "movement analysis." Some of the movements and gestures he has analyzed follow:

Forward and Backward Movements. If you extend a hand straight forward during an interview
or tend to lean forward, Lamb considers you to be an "operator"- good for an organization
requiring an infusion of energy or dramatic change of course.

Vertical Movements. If you tend to draw yourself up to your tallest during the handshake, Lamb
considers you to be a "presenter." You are a master at selling yourself or the organization in
which you are employed.

Side-to-Side Movements. If you take a lot of space while talking by moving your arms about,
you are a good informer and good listener. You are best suited for an organization seeking a
better sense of direction. Lamb believes there is a relationship between positioning of the body
and movements of the limbs and facial expressions. He has observed harmony between the two.
On the other hand, if certain gestures are rehearsed, such as those made to impress others,
there is a tendency to separate the posture and the movements. The harmony disappears.

Studies by Lamb also indicate that communication comes about through our degree of body
flexibility. If you begin a movement with considerable force and then decelerate, you are
considered a "gentle-touch." By contrast, if you are a "pressurizer," you are firm from beginning to
end. The accuracy of Lamb's analyses is not fully known. However, it is important that corporation
executives are becoming so sensitive to the importance of non-verbal messages that they are
hiring consultants, such as Lamb, to analyze non-verbal communications in their organizations.

Facial Expressions
Facial expressions usually communicate emotions. The expressions tell the attitudes of the
communicator. Researchers have discovered that certain facial areas reveal our emotional state
better than others. For example, the eyes tend to reveal happiness or sadness, and even
surprise. The lower face also can reveal happiness or surprise; the smile, for example, can
communicate friendliness and cooperation. The lower face, brows, and forehead can also reveal
anger. Mehrabian believes verbal cues provide 7 percent of the meaning of the message; vocal
cues, 38 percent; and facial expressions, 55 percent. This means that, as the receiver of a
message, you can rely heavily on the facial expressions of the sender because his expressions
are a better indicator of the meaning behind the message than his words.

Eye Contact
Eye contact is a direct and powerful form of non-verbal communication. The superior in the
organization generally maintains eye contact longer than the subordinate. The direct stare of the
sender of the message conveys candor and openness. It elicits a feeling of trust. Downward
glances are generally associated with modesty. Eyes rolled upward are associated with fatigue.

Tactile Communication
Communication through touch is obviously non-verbal. Used properly it can create a more direct
message than dozens of words; used improperly it can build barriers and cause mistrust. You can
easily invade someone's space through this type of communication. If it is used reciprocally, it
indicates solidarity; if not used reciprocally, it tends to indicate differences in status. Touch not
only facilitates the sending of the message, but the emotional impact of the message as well.

Personal Space
Personal space is your "bubble" - the space you place between yourself and others. This invisible
boundary becomes apparent only when someone bumps or tries to enter your bubble.

How you identify your personal space and use the environment in which you find yourself
influences your ability to send or receive messages. How close do you stand to the one with
whom you are communicating ? Where do you sit in the room? How do you position yourself with
respect to others at a meeting? All of these things affect your level of comfort, and the level of
comfort of those receiving your message.

Goldhaber says there are three basic principles that summarize the use of personal space in an
organization: The higher your position (status) in the organization,

the more and better space you will have,

the better protected your territory will be, and

the easier it will be to invade the territory of lower-status personnel

The impact of use of space on the communication process is related directly to the environment
in which the space is maintained.

How do you arrange the objects in your environment - the desks, chairs, tables, and bookcases?
The design of your office, according to researchers, can greatly affect the communications within
it. Some managers divide their offices into personal and impersonal areas. This can improve the
communication process if the areas are used for the purposes intended.

Your pecking-order in the organization is frequently determined by such things as the size of your
desk, square feet in your office, number of windows in the office, quality of the carpet, and type of
paintings (originals or copies) on the wall.

It is obvious that your personal space and environment affect the level of your comfort and your
status and facilitate or hinder the communication process.

Is the content of your message contradicted by the attitude with which you are communicating it?
Researchers have found that the tone, pitch, quality of voice, and rate of speaking convey
emotions that can be accurately judged regardless of the content of the message. The important
thing to gain from this is that the voice is important, not just as the conveyor of the message, but
as a complement to the message. As a communicator you should be sensitive to the influence of
tone, pitch, and quality of your voice on the interpretation of your message by the receiver.

Silence and Time

Silence can be a positive or negative influence in the communications process. It can provide a
link between messages or sever relationships. It can create tension and uneasiness or create a
peaceful situation. Silence can also be judgmental by indicating favor or disfavor - agreement or

For example, suppose a manager finds a couple of his staff members resting.

If he believes these staff members are basically lazy, the idleness conveys to him that they are
"goofing off" and should be given additional assignments.

If he believes these staff members are self-motivated and good workers, the idleness conveys to
him that they are taking a well-deserved "break."
If he is personally insecure, the idleness conveys to him that they are threatening his authority.

Time can be an indicator of status. How long will you give the staff member who wishes to speak
to you? How long will you make him wait to see you? Do you maintain a schedule? Is your
schedule such that your subordinates must arrange their schedules to suit yours? In a healthy
organization, the manager and his subordinates use time to communicate their mutual respect to
each other.

Closing Thoughts
Regardless of your position in the organization it is important for you to develop some sensitivity
to nonverbal messages. Cooperation improves as we recognize and respond appropriately to
non-verbal cues. Of course you have been aware of non-verbal communications all of your life,
but how much thought have you given them?