As explained in the first page of hand gestures, a single sign can definitely have several meanings depending on how it is displayed. To the right are four images of the “Horns” sign that demonstrate this statement. All have quite unique meanings based on how the hand is held. Two further variations not included in the images are the “surfers greeting” and the “telephone” gesture. These are depicted later.
The “Horns” or “Corna” gesture has most recently been adopted by fans of rock and heavy metal music (See Safe, Respect, We’re Cool), but it is believed to have been popularised by Black Sabbath vocalist Ronnie James Dio. In this context the hand gesture is a combination of the “evil eye” or Satan mixed up with a rejection of society in favour of an alternative sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll lifestyle. Nowadays many people around the world seem to use it to simply mean “rock on”. The symbolism behind a hand gesture can shift quite dramatically over a relatively short time period. (Continued at the bottom of this page)
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However, some rude hand gestures are so universally established that their use in just about any country can get a person into serious trouble. The “Middle Finger” sign is just one example. In Dubai (United Arab Emirates) the use of obscene hand gestures by motorists is an offence that is likely to land a person in jail. The problem is that there are so many different cultures intermingled in the city that no one is really sure what is rude and what isn’t. As a consequence, drivers hardly ever gesture to each other – even to say thank you – just in case that casual wave is misinterpreted.
An interesting observation by scientists is that chimpanzees learn hand gestures quite quickly and even seem to use them in the wild without training. These gestures actually seem to apply cognitive meaning to their use. This is seen as significant evidence that hand gestures, as a form of communication, may significantly predate the spoken word.
“Amy S. Pollick and Frans B. M. de Waal of the Yerkes National Primate Research Centre report that the two species (Chimpanzees and Bonobos) use gestures in a much more flexible way than facial or vocal signals.”
– New York Times Online 2007/1/05
It’s therefore no surprise that we still use them. Today, our facial expressions are the equivalent of a perpetual PowerPoint display of our emotions. A huge amount of communication using facial expressions needs no words at all. A smile to say: “I’m pleased” or “I’m happy” or even “I like you” is enough.
These expressions are more than a statement of a person’s emotional state they occur to reinforce or contradict what is being said. They are just as often used to provide others with feedback about the communication being received. A child being “told-off” looks down to acknowledge to the parent that he or she understands the communication and now feels shame. Two-way communication is taking place at many levels.
Sometimes facial expressions are simply automatic responses to protect the delicate organs of the face. Eyes narrow when threatened and a person will wrinkle their nose in disgust in an attempt to keep from inhaling a bad smell that might be dangerous. As stated before, the science behind body language is fascinating but this website is mainly dedicated to the recognition of body language and what the individual signals and expressions mean.