Popular Hand Gestures That Used to Mean Something Else

Hand gestures, much like verbal communication, are a great way to convey important messages. We do them every day, but have you ever thought about how they came to be? The thumbs up, the V-sign and crossing your fingers—these gestures didn’t pop out of thin air. Luckily for you, this article has the answers to your questions and then some. So why don’t you take a look at five hand gestures that used to mean something entirely else.

1. Salute

There are several theories surrounding the origins of the salute. One theory claims that the gesture first appeared in Medieval Europe when fully dressed knights raised their visors with one hand to show approaching knights that they were friendly. Another states that Roman soldiers did it to greet other soldiers. A third one claims that during the 18th century, British soldiers would remove their hats to greet other higher-ranking soldiers. But as hats became more elaborate they resorted to tapping their hats as it was too much of a chore to lift them. It eventually evolved to the salute that we’re so familiar with today.

2. Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down

Did you really like something? Then give it a thumbs up! Hated it? Then show your disapproval with a thumbs down! Simple, effective and to the point, don’t you think? You’ll have to thank the Romans for this one, who referred to it as “pollice verso” or “turned tumb” back then. It was commonly done at the end of combat where the referee would give the crowd a choice—finish off the loser or spare his life. The spectators would express their decision with thumbs up or thumbs down; the former meant the gladiator was done for, the latter meant he would live.

3. Crossed Fingers

Crossing one’s fingers is used to indicate a lie or to increase one’s luck. It has its origins in European superstitions when people believed that good spirits lived at the intersections of crosses. If two people made a single cross with their index fingers while making a wish, this would make the good spirits more inclined to grant their wishes. Others say that the gesture showed up shortly after Christianity appeared in Europe when Christians were being persecuted. So they created the crossed fingers as a secret symbol for identification.

4. Shaka Sign

You know that gesture with the pinky finger and thumb sticking out with the rest of the fingers facing down? It’s called the shaka sign and it’s a popular Hawaiian greeting that’s usually followed by “shaka, brah!” Well, there are two versions of its origin. One has to do with a Hawaiian named Hamana Kalili who had three fingers missing on his right hand, supposedly due to a shark attack. Apparently, Kalili accidentally created the gesture when he used his right hand to bless someone. The other version says that he used the gesture to ward off children who were trying to jump on trains.

5. V-Sign

The V-sign, which involves holding your hand up with the index and middle finger sticking out resembling the letter V, has different meanings depending on who you’re asking. Some say it indicates peace or victory while others swear that it’s the British version of the middle finger. Like many other hand signs, the origins are unclear: some say that it first appeared during the battle of Agincourt between France and England in 1415. Then there’s this story that states it originated from a gesture that was directed at the husband of an adulterous wife.


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