My mom used to make hand gestures to communicate things she didn’t want us kids to know. I guess she thought we were stupid. I knew, even at an early age, that when talking about my grandmother, she took her right index finger and made a small circle by her temple. That she meant grandma was crazy.
“Vickie, I didn’t say Grandma was crazy…….No I didn’t………I did nothing of the sort.”
Except that she did. When Grandma was right in front of her. I enjoyed calling my mom out when she did it.
I remember riding in the car with the family when we passed a guy who was hitchhiking. It made me wonder how sticking out your thumb meant that you wanted a ride. I thought that was pretty interesting. And it wasn’t stupid to ask how people would hitchhike if they didn’t have a thumb.
“Vickie, that’s just stupid. People wouldn’t be able to hitchhike if they didn’t have a thumb. They’d have to make up a sign that said, Pittsburgh or something like that…….No, they wouldn’t use their pointing finger……And don’t you kids ever hitchhike when you get older………….Well, because people who hitchhike are dirty and stink and can’t afford their own car……Well, your dad had to hitchhike because his car broke down in the middle of nowhere……………Vickie, I didn’t say your dad stinks………..No, I didn’t.”
My mom went on to tell us how hitchhikers were first called hobos. They would travel and hitch a ride on freight trains before cars were invented. So, Dad was basically a stinky hobo. But, hitchhiking is a interesting hand gesture.
So, I got to thinking…What other hand gestures did my mom or friends use? Here are some that I come up with:
1. Quack Quack- When you take your right thumb and bring it up to meet the other fingers. This means that someone is going on and on and on.. sort of like “Blah, Blah, Blah”. My mom used to make this one when company would stay a little too long for her liking. Since our tv was in the same room as the company, I had to endure the endless talking of Betty Edwards. Pretty soon, I would glance over to my mom, and she would be making the quacking gesture to me. I did it back to her one time. I thought that was pretty funny. Betty saw me and told my mom I was a very rude little girl. I was sent to my room. But, as soon as Betty left, my mom took us out for an ice cream cone. Score.
2. Peek-a-Boo- Ok, this isn’t really a hand gesture, but it is in a way. I mention it only because when I was a teen-ager, I always wanted to know what would happen if after a couple times of smiling for the kid, that the next time you opened your hands, you had a scary look on your face, monster like. I just had to try it. And yes, it does confuse the baby into tears.
3. Bunny Ears- I don’t know how many pictures are ruined because some smart alec has to put their two fingers up behind someone’s head. The gesture, popular by mischievous boys wanting to make somebody look stupid in a photograph, preferably without their knowledge, makes no sense to me. That doesn’t make them look like a bunny. Well, unless they had misproportioned front teeth…. And the name, Bucky.
4. Thumb to the nose, wiggle fingers- I really don’t see this one used too much anymore. Just don’t use it on a cop. I think that’s all I will say about that. Well, except, don’t do it in New York, because it is truly against the law. I’m thinking cab drivers revolted or something.
5. Thumbs up- This means things are great. Well, unless you don’t have a thumb. Then, things would suck. I read that the symbol, thumbs up, came about in gladiator times. The defeated guy would be at the mercy of the crowd. Thumbs up meant, “let him live,” thumbs down meant, “Let the lions have a look at him.” During World War II, pilots would give the thumbs up symbol when they were ready for take-off. Just don’t give the thumbs up in some countries in South America or some Middle East places. It’s an insult, so just don’t do it. Or do it, and watch someone put their index finger across their throat. That’s another hand gesture you don’t want to see. I mean, that might make me run in the other direction.
6. Loser- This hand gesture is modern, meaning before I became old and “not with it.” You just basically put your thumb and index finger up to your forehead, making an “L” for loser. It means you’re a loser. I made my daughter laugh a couple of years ago, when beating her at Scrabble, put three finger up on my forehead. “What are you doing, Mom?” I told her she was a weirdo. And then added, like I was a Grandma getting ready to skydive for the first time, “Isn’t that what you kids do, nowadays?” When she explained that it was “L for Loser” and not “W for weirdo”, I really begged to differ. Weirdo’s are losers. and losers are weirdo’s. Semantics.
7. Can I have your numba?- Call me. Put your thumb on your ear (or in it if you are stupid) and your pinky down by your lips. It takes longer for me to put my other fingers down and put the two up to my ear than just saying, “Call me.” Not a fan of this one. Arthritic people beware.
8. Pretend, i’m going to pick my nose- Put your index finger near the opening of your nose and make a back and forth motion like you are getting ready to go up the nose..Means you’re stupid or did something stupid. Which just makes the person making the gesture look stupid, and boogered. Years ago, this meant that the person was “retarded,” but not literally.
9. High Five- When you slap someone with your palm of the hand agains their palm of the hand, that means things are going great. People tend to jump up in the air a bit when they do a high five. I give my kids a high five when they make a hundred percent on a test. I’m not enthusiastic enough to jump, though. I’m on my feet enough.
10. Flippin the bird- This is not a nice gesture. I remember one time Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton’s mom flipped me the bird when I honked at her for sitting way too long after the light turned green. I laughed and it made her even more mad. And she did it again, this time with words coming out of her mouth. I wonder what she would have done if I actually hit her from behind. I would be a dead woman.
11. Hand around an invisible neck- I’ve murdered my ex-husband in this fashion many, many times while I was married.
12. Slow down, cops are waiting for you- Everyone has done this. Or is it just me? It’s a warning system to oncoming cars that there is a cop or an accident up ahead. With your left hand on the wheel (because that would be nice), take your other hand, fingers together, and make your hand go down and up several times. Or I guess you could just flash your lights. Whatever.
13. Peace sign- My daughter lived in Japan for a year and every picture that she took had someone giving the peace sign. Of course, it really comes from World War II…V for victory. So, I guess if you were victorious, you would be at peace.
Well, after I watched my mom, I guess I grew up to use hand gestures too. I guess everyone does. I like to use the “I’m watching you” sign at school. Especially when I see them cheating. Which some do every chance they get.
As I walk my students down the hall, and pass another teacher, I sometimes nonchalantly put my index finger to my temple and pull the trigger. Other times, I hang myself. Just depends on what kind of day I have had. I usually end the day killing myself in some fashion.
In the end, hand gestures are part of everyone’s culture. Some signals are obvious. Some are not.