What are the meanings of hand gestures?

Written by jeanne baird
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What are the meanings of hand gestures?
Hand gestures have different meanings in different countries. (hand image by Luki_Poland from Fotolia.com)

Hand gestures are a quick and quiet way for people of all cultures to express, both negatively and positively, a particular feeling or word. Every culture has its own gestures, and they do not always mean the same things universally.


Making the "OK" gesture with the thumb and index finger is a positive hand gesture in the United States. It is made by touching the tip of the thumb to the tip of the index finger. The other three fingers are extended above the thumb and index finger. However, this hand gesture is considered insulting in France and Latin America.


The "victory" hand gesture is made by bending the third and fourth fingers to touch the tip of the thumb and extending the index and middle finger upward, separating them by about an inch to form the letter V. Facing the palm outward to the person finishes the victory gesture. Allied leaders and hippies used this gesture at different times. The Allied leaders used it to show the symbol of victory during World War II. Hippies used it during the Vietnam War to express their anti-war feelings.


The thumbs-up hand gesture is made by extending your thumb into the air while curling the other four fingers inward. The meaning behind this gesture, at least in Western cultures, is "well done" or "things are great." However, in such places as Latin America, Sardinia, Greece, and southern Italy, the gesture has the opposite meaning. In these places, this gesture is viewed as negative and insulting.


When a person curls an index finger a few times, it is usually done to get another person to come closer. In the United States, finger beckoning can be seen at restaurants when a person seeks to summon a waiter. In other countries, this gesture has a different meaning. Performing this gesture in Japan can be seen as rude, and in Singapore, it is a sign of death.


Putting a hand palm outward with all fingers pointing upward is recognised in the United States as a hand gesture to stop. Other meanings can include "talk to the hand" or "stay away." By contrast, in Malaysia, this gesture is used to get a waiter's attention or to signal that you would like to say something.


Extending the index finger outward to point is done to indicate something specific. Finger-pointing can be considered ill-mannered, for example, when children point at people or things they find amusing or strange. Finger-pointing is also a way of placing blame on something on someone.

Crossing Fingers

Crossing the first two fingers of either hand signifies good luck. The origin of this gesture is unknown and is said to come from Asian, Christian and Muslim cultures. Currently, crossing fingers is recognised as a gesture of hope for good fortune.

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