Finger and hand gestures (symbols) and their meaning

In many parts of the world, finger and hand gestures are made for protection or to evoke good luck and these gestures have sometimes transformed into a statue or pendant to offer the same protection or to evoke good luck as an amulet. For example, the gesture often turned into a symbol in the form of an amulet or statuette to make the effect permanent. Most of these amulets are found in Italy, but they are also very popular in Spain, Portugal and all their former colonies in South America. Often the finger and hand symbols have the same meaning in different cultures, but some of these hand or finger symbols have completely different meanings in different parts of the world. This is something to watch out for when you're on holiday, before you know it you'll be making an insulting signal to the locals while you meant something completely different. Regards, Hein Pragt.
Copyright © Hein Pragt.

One example of diferences

tikken tegen zijkant hoofd betekenis A well-known gesture is tapping the finger against the side of the head or the front of the head. In the Netherlands (and a lot of other countries) tapping the side of the head means that someone is smart, but in many In other cultures such as France, for example, this means that someone is stupid or crazy. When we want to indicate in the Netherlands that someone stupid or crazy, we tap our foreheads. Unfortunately, in many countries (including France again) this means that someone is very smart. This is an example of a symbolic gesture that one can make with the finger, that has a completely opposite meaning in different countries around the world. It is therefore also advisable to be careful with these kind of symbolic gestures when you are in another country because you could get in serious trouble with the local population.

Sign of the horns gesture

gehorende hand symbool The sign of the horns or Corna (in Dutch de bokkegroet and in Italian mano cornuta) is a vulgar gesture performed with the fingers that originally was used in Mediterranean countries to ward off evil or the evil eye. The gesture is made by hand to pointing forward like a fist with only the index fingers and little finger stretched out. The hand thus takes on a primitive shape of an animal head with horns. If one wants to hide this gesture, it can also be made with the arm hanging or in the pockets. The symbol itself has been around for more than two thousand years old and even before Roman times. The first interpretation had nothing to do with the devil but with the mighty protective horns of animals, such as the bull. Eventually the meaning changed to the horned devil. As an amulet it is a protection symbol, it can hang in the shop window as a tufted glove to ward off disaster (in Italy) or painted on the bow of a ship. (Malta). When you make the Corna gesture towards someone In modern Italy, it means that the person is being cheated by his or her partner. By influence of the metal rock the symbol has also become a symbol for the devil, or a plain rock symbol. In Mediterranean countries it's still used as ring or other jewelry.

Crossed fingers gesture

Gekruiste vingers gebaar betekenis The crossed fingers is a very popular gesture in the western world and that is why it is also worn as an amulet or emblem. In this gesture, the middle fingers are curved over the index finger, while the other fingers are curved. This can be done visibly by hand up, but also hidden, for example behind the back. The most popular explanation is that the sign is an "ordinary" Christian sign of the cross that is mainly was used in the early Christian days to secretly make the sign of the cross to protect themselves and not to identify themselves as a Christian (who in were prosecuted at this time). A second interpretation is that of the magical power of a knot, the fingers do not form here just cross a knot and with this one hopes to force good luck. The third interpretation is wanting to scratch something and keep the devil from seizing the soul the moment one tells a lie or commits a sin. I think the first explanation is the most obvious. Yet nowadays the symbol is often used to be able to lie and to defend oneself against the consequences.

Hand of Fatima symbol

hand van fatima symbool One of the most popular amulets in the Middle East is a downward pointing hand. This hand symbol represents the hand of Fatima the youngest daughter of the prophet Muhammad. Arabs also call it Hamsa that stands for the number five and they wear it as jewelry. Hindus call it the Humsa hand and Jews the Hamesh hand or the hand of Miriam. According to tradition, the following happened, Fatimah the daughter of the Prophet was preparing the meal when her husband, the prophet Ali, came home unexpectedly. He was accompanied by a beautiful young woman and it was an agony for Fatima to see her husband with this new woman. She was so upset that she wasn't paying attention and her hand into the hot pan to stir. She was so upset that she felt no pain, but her husband Ali saw it and rushed over to her. Only then she discovered that she burned her hand and pulled it out of the pan. As a result, the downward pointing hand of Fatima became an important symbol in the Middle East. The hand also symbolized the five pillars of Islam: faith, prayer, pilgrimage, fasting and charity. For the Shia, Fatima has the same status as the virgin Mary for Catholics, she is seen as holy and without sin. The Hand of Fatima is worn as an amulet for protection often there is also a blue eye in the hand which is an extra defense against the evil eye.

Chin swipe gesture

kinveeg gebaar In this gesture, one places the hand under the chin and then jerks the hand forward and sweeps it under the chin. In France this gesture is known as "la barbe" or "de Naard". It's a typical masculine gesture that means "shut up" and it's a bit like showing off. The gesture is also used in Belgium, France, Northern Italy and Tunisia. In Italy the meaning seems a little lighter and can also simply mean "no".

Middle finger gesture

middelvinger symbool The middle finger gesture is a commonly insulting and hostile gesture. This gesture was already known to the ancient Romans (under the name digitus impudicus or indecent finger) and it indicated an intense anger and contempt. In America this is an obcene insulting gesture. It's also for sale to use as an amulet where the wearer actually indicates that he has no problem with challenging everything and everyone. Although the meaning is known throughout the In the world, this sign is especially used in North America where it has the simple designation "the finger".

Moutza gesture

moutza gebaar This gesture is a great insult in Greece, nevertheless it is also for sale in Greece as a pendant. The gesture is also known in America and there is the meaning "talk to the hand". The origin of this gesture comes from the time when criminals were put to shame by having them chained in a public market or street to be harassed and mistreated by the good people. One of the well-known acts was picking it up of a handful of street dirt and throwing or rubbing it in the face of the chained person. Later only portraying this act, by extending the flat of the substitute's hand, it became a common insulting gesture in Greece. When you are in Greece and you want someone to take some distance using this friendly hand gesture. it can be a very insulting signal to the Greeks.

Shaka gesture

Shaka gebaar of symbool betekenis Sometimes a friendly gesture is turns into an amulet, the shaka gesture that originates from Hawaii is such a gesture. In Hawaii there is a friendly greeting in which one leaves the thumb and little finger upright and the three fingers in between bend forward. With this hand one makes a friendly waving motion in the air. There are pictures and pendants for sale of this gesture and the meaning as amulet is, "be happy" and "I am friendly and no danger". So it is a disarming amulet. Sometimes it still says Aloha or the text "Hang loose". The origin of this gesture is said to be a toned down Spanish gesture brought by Spanish sailors. In Spain there is a gesture to indicate "come and have a drink with me" based on the earlier little leather bottles that they held above their mouths and then poured a jet of liquor their mouths. This Spanish gesture consists of a stretched thumb and little finger with the thumb pointing in the direction of the open lips. The people from Hawaii have adopted the friendly meaning but they did no longer make it towards the mouth. The gesture is now also called shaka because a local comedian named "Lucky-Luck" used the catchphrase "it's a shaka."

Ring gesture

Ring teken betekenis The well-known ring sign in which the tips of the thumb and index finger touch each other to form a circle is a gesture with multiple meanings. In much of the world it means everything is fine, the okay sign, in some other regions like the Middle East it means a genital opening, and that's where the sign is particularly offensive. It seems that the ring sign in the form of okay in the 20th century from America has spread to the rest of the world, replacing the old meaning. In the 16th century there were forms of this gesture as protective amulets that were directed against evil and the evil eye.

Hidden thumb sign

Verborgen duim teken betekenis Duim omlaag At the end of a fight between gladiators in ancient Rome, the emperor or the public indicated with a hand gesture whether the gladiator had fought well and thus was allowed to live, or that this vanquished gladiator should be stabbed. When the gladiator had to die, the thumb would be down, when he had fought well and was allowed to live, the thumb was hidden in the hand. This is called the hidden thumb but by an unknown misunderstanding (probably the film industry) this hidden thumb gesture was turned into a thumbs up gesture. The thumbs up gesture is an okay sign in our times and the confusion is therefore understandable. Yet the original form is not the thumb up but the hidden thumb. The thumbs down in the ancient Romans referred to the death blow, where the sword was stabbed from above. Also in nowadays Italy the thumbs up as a sign of okay is less common than in English speaking countries. This gesture is still for sale as an amulet, for example as a small pendant, it is a sign of generous approval and through the amulet they hope to invoke this in others as well.

Fica sign

Vijg-teken of Fica symbool betekenis The fig sign (also called a fica or fico sign or symbol) is made by closing the hand and placing the tip of the thumb between the index and middle finger. This is a gesture with a long and confusing history. This is not only a gesture that some people make but there are also amulets of this sign to wear that were already used in ancient times. This gesture is clearly an offensive gesture, the meaning is probably the male genitals and the female genitals but there are also statements that emphasize only the female part. In many countries including Portugal and Brazil, the fig sign is an enchanting gesture to avert evil and the evil eye. The protective effect is then related with the idea that demons and devils are afraid of private parts. In many countries this amulet is for sale as a lucky charm and people wear it, for example, on a necklace around the neck. In Western culture, the fig sign as a gesture is a violently insulting symbol. The reason this symbol is originally called a fig sign is probably due to the appearance of the fig, which has been a symbol of the female private parts since ancient times.

The V sign

v teken The V sign is a gesture with a double meaning, in England this is (depending on the position of the hand) a strongly insulting gesture in the rest of the world it's just a friendly gesture that means Victory. In England and Ireland the V sign (with the back of the hand to the other) is the grossest insult there is, wearing this sign as a protective amulet is therefore a permanent threat to the address of every imaginable opponent. One of the many explanations for this meaning dates back to the 15th century. The English were, as usual, once again at war with the French. The French cut the bow fingers (the first and second fingers of the right hand) of all the captured English soldiers so they could never shoot a bow again. The English then put these two fingers in the air as an insult with the message "we still have them". Thus, this gesture grew into a strong insulting signal. But when asked by English young people, many do not know this meaning but look at it as an enlarged phallus and splayed female legs. Outside of England the sign almost always means Victory or victory, but the hand must always be turned away from oneself. This positive meaning was invented on January 14, 1941 by a Belgian lawyer named Victor de La Velaye as a symbol of the underground resistance to harass the Nazis. His idea was taken up by the BBC and by Winston Churchill who made it the hand gesture. The V-for-victory campaign became popular across Europe, much to the chagrin of the Nazis.

The five fathers gesture

vijf vaders gebaar The gesture of pressing the index finger into the five pinched fingers of the other hand is a very insulting gesture, especially in Arab countries. The meaning is roughly, you have five fathers and your mother is a whore! It is suggested with this gesture that the mother of the person towards you make this gesture that his mother had so many lovers that paternity is impossible to determine. The gesture suggests that the other is actually a son or a daughter of a whore. This insult is so strong that it will almost certainly provoke violence.

The index finger symbol

wijsvinger gebaar This symbolic gesture seems to have originated with Christians in North America to indicate that there is only one true God. They stick the index finger straight up with all other fingers bent and it is an expression of their faith and a threat to non-Christians that their gods are not true. There don't seem to be many amulets of this gesture, probably because it has to compete with many other finger gestures, I did see one image of a button depicting a Christian cross and this finger gesture.

Threat signals by means of hands and fingers

dreig signalen 1 dreig signalen 2 Threat signals by means of hands and fingers also come in many forms and are a manifestation of aggression and intimidation. There are roughly a few types, the intent attack move is an attack that is launched but not completed. These are, for example, pulling out with a fist or arm, but halfway through the action let the arm hang by the body again. In addition, we then have the aggressive vacuum gestures, these are moves that are completed but stay so far away from the victim that they do not hit him. Examples of this are shaking with a clenched fist, a chopping gesture with the hand or a neck twisting or strangling gesture and also an outstretched index finger with which a club or stabbing weapon is depicted. Poking at the other with two fingers can mean keeping an eye on the other or keeping an eye on him will keep which is of course also threatening. A third way is the object transfer in which one presents an attack on oneself. That's how one can bite oneself and then quickly move the hand towards the opponent, strangling oneself or symbolically cutting the neck to show the other what awaits him. Striking with the fist in one's own palm is also a variant and also with the knuckles of the fists against each other. When If two people challenge each other in this way, the rest of the body position will often be the deciding factor and a real fight will be prevented. In most cases, as in the animal kingdom, in a showdown it will remain in threat of fingers and hands and will not actually performed. Source: Desmond Morris, de naakte mens.

Sign language and fingerspelling

You have probably seen that two deaf people (or a hearing person and a deaf person) communicate by means of hand gestures. Sign language is a visual language, and is made visible through fingers, hands, facial expression and posture. The Dutch Sign Language is a real one language with its own grammar. Unfortunately, the sign languages ??around the world are different, people usually speak the sign language of their own country. I read that there are currently about one hundred and forty different sign languages in the world but more are still being discovered. A nice detail is that sign languages were not only used by deaf people but were also used, for example, in monasteries by Monks who had taken a vow of silence and used gestures to still communicate a little. In addition to sign language we also know the manual alphabet or finger alphabet, this is a collection of gestures with which all letters of an alphabet can be represented. It is part of the sign language and can be used to spell words that the other person does not know or understand and therefore becomes daarom it's also called fingerspelling . Read more about sign language and the manual alphabet via the links at the bottom of this page.

Last update: 20-08-2021

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