A History Of Gestures
Sorry, it’s true, you’re dad wasn’t the first person to ever flip someone the bird. And your mom wasn’t the first to throw up a peace sign. The high five? Around long before you gave one to your buddy who scored with that ugly chick.
So what’s the history behind our favorite gestures?
The Middle Finger
People Who Use It: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, George W. Bush, Anyone Who Drives
The finger, the bird, the universal symbol for saying “Fuck You” finds its roots in the most unlikely place. Ancient Greek Literature namely The Grecian Comedy “The Clouds” by Aristophanes. According to the book “Gestures and Their Origins” there are several occurrences in this play where one character extends his longest finger in the direction of a woman (or man, crazy Greeks); a motion that was meant to convey a desire to fornicate.
The phallic thrusting movement that “flipping the bird” is based on was most likely contrived from monkeys and apes. You see monkeys and apes, the classy fellas they are, enjoy thrusting their penises at potential mates. This is similar to the way men point their boners at women now.
But how did something as nice as a proposition for sex turn into something so negative? Well, remember that dick-waving chimpanzee? He also used his penis against competition, and by showing how large it was made his opponents feel inferior. One thing led to another, and eventually digitus impudicus (the indecent finger) had become mankind’s way of flopping his junk around without actually flopping his junk around.
The Peace Sign
People Who Use It: Winston Churchill, Richard Nixon, Hippies
The Peace sign had nothing to do with peace at all at its conception. Unless you consider peace fighting in a war. Legend has it that the French Military, who apparently didn’t used to suck, would cut off the fingers of opponent’s archers so they would be unable to draw a bow. Those who were still able to pull a bow string would flaunt their intact fingers, presumably right before they shot people with arrows right in the face.
However, it’s Winston Churchill who lays claim to the more recent use of the Peace Sign, way back when it was called the Victory Sign. You might say that the good guys were looking for a slogan to stand behind and repeat over and over like that old Ace of Base song “I Saw The Sign.” V for Victory was the “theme song” they came up with for the Allies during World War II.
The Peace Sign would later be used by another world leader, Richard Nixon as he exited office and boarded Air Force One. Perhaps as a joke that no one got, since he wasn’t exactly victorious at anything but doing shitty political things and being the only President to ever resign. But, the Hippies of the sixties and seventies are who we can thank for the Peace Sign we know and love today. It’s probably because they were totally wasted all of the time but they adopted the Victory Sign to use as a protest symbol during the Vietnam War. This would kinda be the equivalent of eating a Big Mac to boycott fatty foods.
People Who Use It: The Beatles, Ronnie James Dio, Texas Longhorns Fans
The Horns gesture is often referred to as a sign of the devil, or the “horned god” of pagan religion. Possibly derived from the shape of a goat’s head, an animal often associated with Satan. The first use of the gesture was said to be in the middle ages as a way to ward off evil.
The gesture is also used to convey infidelity by holding it up behind another’s head. Sort of like the bunny ears assholes put over their friends heads in every picture they ever take. The gesture is especially popular in Italy where the Horns label them as a “cuckold” or unfaithful person. Perhaps to show that they are the devil because they cheated. We can only guess at what John Lennon intended by having the gesture featured on the cover of The Beatle’s “Yellow Submarine” album.
The gesture made its way into the world of rock with the help of Ronnie James Dio of Black Sabbath fame. Though he his quoted as saying he doesn’t feel he is the first to use the Horns, he must be pretty damned proud of the gesture. Because every single picture of him on the internet features him posing and throwing up devil horns.
You’ll also spot the Horns at sporting events for the University of Texas Longhorns and the University of South Florida Bulls though it’s still to be determined if it’s just a stadium full of people pointing out cheaters and Satanists or actual fans of the teams.
People Who Use It: Frank Fasi, Ronaldinho, Surfers
You might consider it the international sign for “hang loose” but the Shaka Sign is so much more. It also means, “all right” “cool” and “smooth.” The history behind the gesture is actually a rather sad story. According to the Polynesian Cultural Center the first man to use the Shaka Sign was Kalili Hamana a man who worked at a Sugar Mill. While there he lost his three middle fingers. His “all clear” hand signal, which obviously wasn’t used pre-accident, developed into what we now know as the Shaka. Ironically the Shaka Sign was developed by a guy that couldn’t do anything with his hands other than make the Shaka Sign… talk about irony.
Former Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi picked up the hand gesture and used it in two campaigns and gave the Shaka some publicity. Senator Barack Obama, possibly following in Fasi’s example has even used the gesture in his own “I’m Younger and So Much Cooler Than McCain” campaign.
World famous soccer player Ronalinho has given the Shaka new life throwing it up when celebrating. Note we said “celebrating” and not making a goal. If it was just scoring he’d only get to do it like once a week because it takes forever to score in a soccer game. And we bet he likes to use the Shaka Sign a lot more than that. Other places you might find the Shaka are anywhere there’s a surfer, and anywhere there is a tourist with a camera and a palm tree within 50 feet.
Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down
People Who Use It: Roman Emperors, Siskel & Ebert, Hitchhikers
The Thumbs Up or Down gesture or pollice verso was given birth in the coliseums of Rome. At the end of a fight of gladiators, one would stand victorious… it was up to the people to decide whether or not the loser would live or die. Thumbs Up and the competitor would live; Thumbs Down and he lost his life. Unless the winner was Russell Crowe, and he’d eff the whole thing up for everyone.
Approval and disapproval is the name of the game in a thumb gesture, and the gesture was eventually picked up by Siskel & Ebert, two guys who made a living watching movies and telling people what they thought about it for about 40 years. A job that we bet would totally rock if you weren’t Siskel and had to spend all of your time with Ebert, the weirdest looking dude on the planet.
The Thumbs Up is also widely recognized as a symbol of needing a lift. Head down any highway and you’re bound to see hitchhikers. They will stand on the side of the road with their arm extended and thumb up until some nice person gives them a ride. And by “gives” we mean “exchanges for oral sex.”
Well, there you go. What’s your favorite gesture to use? Tell us about it in the Comments Section!