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Understanding Hand Gestures

By: Libby Pelham BA - Updated: 20 Dec 2017 | comments*Discuss
Understanding Hand Gestures

There are many times when it is important to understand different hand gestures. If you are in a setting where hearing is difficult, hand gestures are one of the only ways to communicate with others.

If you are speaking to someone who doesn’t understand your language and you don’t understand theirs, hand gestures and body language will be the only way to help convey your feelings.

Understanding what certain hand gestures mean is important. Meanings may vary depending on the nationality of the person to which you are gesturing.


As far as most in the Western world are concerned, thumbs-up is a sign of positivity, a signal that everything is okay, while thumbs-down signals disapproval or rejection. It is believed that the positive meaning of thumbs-up in the Western countries originated with World War II pilots, who gave that signal to the ground crew to show they were ready to take off. However, in certain countries, including many in Latin America, West Africa, Greece, Russia, Sardinia, the Middle East, and south Italy, thumbs-up gestures are considered offensive.

The Dog Call

With the dog call, you repeatedly curl your index finger towards you, as if summoning someone or something. In Hollywood movies, these gestures can often have a seductive connotation, but in the Philippines, you can be arrested for using it unless you are calling a dog!

Even outside the Philippines, many countries see this as a rather disrespectful way to call someone towards you. In certain sports, such as martial arts, this non-verbal hand gesture can be seen as a taunt as in “come on, show me what you’ve got.”

Clenched Fist

A clenched fist is usually interpreted as a sign of aggression or anger. However, some militant groups have used a raised clenched fist as a sign of defiance against their oppressors.

Finger Snap

A finger snap can have different meanings. Some view it as offensive, especially when fingers are snapped close to another’s face. Yet many in American and Great Britain use a finger snap to signify that they have remembered something. Snapping the fingers over and over can mean the person is trying to remember something he or she has forgotten. In Latin America, a finger snap often means “hurry up!”


OK hand gestures are made by forming a circle with the thumb and index finger, while the other fingers are pointing upward. Americans and Brits use this gesture to let someone know things are going great. But some countries in Europe view this as a signal for “zero,” as in you think the person you are giving the hand gesture to is a zero. You may not want to use the A-OK symbol in Brazil, Germany, or certain Mediterranean countries as it means “anus” and carried bad connotations with it.

The V Sign

The V sign is formed by pointing up the index and middle finger, while curling the thumb and other fingers under with the palm towards the person. In America, this is the sign for “victory” (President Richard Nixon frequently used this symbol) or “peace” (from the Sixties counterculture movement).

Prime Minister Winston Churchill frequently used this hand gesture to symbolise victory during World War II. Yet, this hand gesture is seen as an insult in Great Britain, Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand if you have the back of your hand facing the person.

The Corna

The corna is one of the names of the hand gesture that is made with the index and pinky finger pointed up with the two middle fingers and thumb curled under. This symbol sometimes has a satanic connotation, in which the hand gesture is supposed to symbolise the horns of the Devil. It is often used in a positive way by fans of heavy metal music. However, the corna is also associated with the University of Texas fans to symbolise their mascot, the Longhorn.

The I Love You Sign

The I Love You sign is made by pointing the thumb, index, and pinky fingers out, while curling the two middle fingers under. This is the official symbol of I Love You in American Sign Language, however in Italy; this hand gesture is often used to curse someone.

Hand gestures can be very usefully ways to communicate with others when other types of body language cannot be seen. However, understanding the meaning and history behind a hand gesture can keep you from giving someone the wrong message.

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It’s very interesting and would like to learn more as a mature student
Mia - 20-Dec-17 @ 9:57 AM
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