Communicating with your hands
Eyes are the windows to your soul and hands are where a person's character lies.
While our head is where our intelligence resides and our heart is our emotional center, hands are the “workers” that accomplish what the head and the heart signal.
Writers have long examined the head and the heart, but many have overlooked the importance of our hands.
We use our hands not only to accomplish tasks, but to express our feelings. What would life be like if we couldn’t stroke a lover’s face or hold a child’s hand or swat an insect or type words or gesture as we speak or gesticulate in place of speech?
Hands are our tools. With them we eat, drive, text, write, read, type, tie our shoes, caress, express anger, etc.
It’s hard to imagine what our life would be like without our fingers and our hands.
Hold up your hand and examine it. Sprouting from your palm are five fingers, like branches of a tree. These branches radiate out and connect us with the world. It’s our fingers that do the caressing and typing. And our fingers make most of our gestures. They also touch another person when we shake hands.
Babies use hand gestures
Fingers are important to infants. They reach out and touch things and explore their world. They also use their digits to communicate. Babies point at an object and get their desires across without the use of words.
A 2009 University of Chicago study reports that the more gestures babies make at 14 months, the bigger their vocabularies will be. As we grow we still rely on gestures (i.e. waving, pointing and using fingers to indicate numbers).
Before people developed an alphabet we were able to communicate using non-verbal means. We still rely on these silent means of communication today.
Over the years we've developed a series of unique gestures
Gestures play an important role in conjunction with the spoken word, but they also impart messages by themselves.
They allow people to communicate over distances where a voice might not carry or when noise interferes with our words. Popular gestures often have interesting origins. Many can be traced back to the Greeks, Romans or to the Middle Ages when trading began. Most of these traders could not read or write so to complete their transactions they used a system of gestures.
Coming: Using gestures to control your electronic devices
First it was the Nintendo Wii, then Microsoft's Xbox Kinect which allowed people to interact with games using human gestures or movements. With full-body gaming there was no need for controllers.
Technological advances aren’t stopping there. Companies are researching how to you can easily control your TV, AC or your tablet with hand movements.
“Any potentially Wi-FI-enabled electronic device in your house can become gesture-sensitive and controllable from just about anywhere in your home," reports Techhive.com. "So with little more than a wave of the hand, users will be able to turn lights on or off from the couch, raise the volume of the TV from the next room, or open the garage before you get outside.”
If you’re worried about a hacker taking control of your electronic devices Techhive says these systems will be protected by a gesture password – a series of unique moves you record.
Let’s examine some hands gestures.
THUMBS UP: Curl your fingers into a fist and stick your thumb up and it means OK, approval or success. (Turn it downward and it indicates disapproval, bad or failure.)
Historians trace the thumbs up gesture to World War II pilots, who relied on it because their roaring engines drowned out their voices. A quick thumbs up allowed them to communicate to their ground crew that all was well or “good to go.”
HITCHHIKING THUMB: During the 1920s, when the automobile exploded on the U.S. landscape, advertising along roadways used a pointing thumb to symbolize a directional arrow. When people began hitchhiking they mirrored this and pointed their thumbs toward their intended route.
Newspapers called them “thumb-pointers” and “thumb-jerkers" and there were quite a few along U.S highways. The New York Times reported on Sept. 18, 1927 that motorists on the two major east-west U.S. routes, “the Lincoln Highway and the National Old Trail, … have come to learn with more or less tolerance that it’s impossible to journey long before being hailed by a hitch-hiker.”
Be careful where you stick your thumb up outside of the U.S. In much of the Middle East, Latin America, Greece, Russia, West Africa and south Italy thumbs up means the same as the middle finger.
MIDDLE FINGER: We all know that thrusting your middle finger in the air tells the target of the gesture “f_ck you” or “f_ck yourself.” The finger is an obscene gesture throughout most of the Western world. And it has many names: “flipping off,” “flipping the bird,” “giving the finger” or “the one-finger salute.”
"It's one of the most ancient insult gestures known," anthropologist Desmond Morris told the BBC.
The middle finger is seen as a symbol of the penis and the curled fingers on either side are the testicles. When you gesture it you’re showing a crude phallic to someone.
There are numerous stories about the origin of the finger (going back as far as 2500 years). It may have started with the Greeks or perhaps it originated with perverse Roman emperors or 15th century English archers. The latter may have the most credence.
The English army included skilled longbowmen, who used their middle finger when firing their longbows made from the wood of the English Yew tree. Prior to a 1415 battle, the French army announced they would cut off the middle fingers of the English soldiers they captured. The French believed that archers without “the” finger would be incapable of accurately firing their longbows.
The classic yew English longbow
The act of drawing the longbow was known as "plucking the yew" or "pluck yew." After the English defeated the French in that battle they mocked their enemy by waving their middle fingers and saying, "See, we can still pluck yew! PLUCK YEW!" Do you see a similarity with that phrase and the one associated today with bird flipping?
Dr. Morris believes Italians, who are renowned for gesturing, brought this obscene hand gesture to the U.S. when they immigrated here.
Baseball players, who are seen on TV making all kinds of crude gestures, play an important role in the one-finger salute history. The first photograph to capture the display of a middle digit occurred in 1886. As a joint team photo was taken of the Boston Beaneaters and the rival New York Giants, a Boston pitcher pointed the offensive finger toward the New York team.
Local, state and U.S. courts prosecute bird flippers, especially if it's directed at a police officer. Although a digit displayer may spend a night in jail he/she is not likely to serve time in prison. Higher courts usually reverse middle finger convictions on appeal, because the gesture is protected as a form of free speech.
NUMBER 1: Our culture is interesting. If you move over one digit and stick your index finger in the air you’re signaling triumph, instead of “plucking yew." This is usually associated with a sports team being the best or “Number 1.” When not at a sporting contest, this gesture means “wait one minute” or “hold on.”
THE V SHAPE: Success is also gestured when you raise your index and middle finger forming a "V." Winston Churchill ► flashed this "V" for “victory” gesture during World War II. Twenty years later, Vietnam War protesters and hippies adopted these two digits as a symbol of peace.
Just make sure your palm is facing out when you make this gesture. If you give the “V” with your knuckles showing to the people of Great Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand it's the same as flipping them off.
THE COOL V: If you hold both your index finger and pinkie aloft it means you’re a lover of rock and roll. Most authorities today say this gesture means “rock on.” While this late 20th century gesture is originally associated with the devil's horns, most people today use both hands pointed toward each other to look "cool" or “bad,” especially in selfies.
OK SYMBOL: Form a circle with your thumb and index finger and you tell someone “OK” or correct. Some say this gesture began with skin divers. The theory is they couldn’t use the thumbs up gesture because it would have been confused with a signal for “Go up.” Instead, most historians say this gesture can be traced back centuries to jewelers. It involves the way jewelers use their fingers when they examine a precious stone. Gem dealers hold the rock between their thumb and index finger and move it back and forth in front of the light to check for flaws. People eventually associated these two circular formed fingers to mean the gem was “OK” or everything was “OK.”
AIR QUOTE: The modern gesture known as the “air quote” involves the use of two hands. You create facsimile quotation marks with your index and middle fingers held up on both hands and then quickly bent down and up at least twice. This is done to highlight a spoken word or phrase, sometimes to indicate a sarcastic comment.
We can trace this gesture back to a 1979 TV game show “Celebrity Charades.” It was used by contestants to communicate to their partners that the phrase they were miming was a quote.
Handshaking plays an important role when greeting people
Greeting someone is an important part of our culture. People greet each other as a sign of recognition, affec-tion and/or friendship. The greeting act is so significant that the two parties touch each other.
In the U.S. and most of the Western world, the most widely recognized means of greeting is shaking hands, which involves simultaneously grasping the other person's hand and briefly moving them up and down.
Throughout history the handshake gesture has been a sign of friendship, an expression of gratitude or congratulations. It’s also used to seal a verbal contract or a bet. Many historians believe the handshake was originally used as a show of peace. Warriors would grip each other’s hands to demonstration that they were not concealing weapons and they meant no harm to each other.
A quick lesson: The meaning of different types of greetings
The handshake is very important when meeting people for the first time, especially men. It’s part of making a good first impression.
People evaluate a man’s character according to the firmness of his handshake. A firm handshake shows confidence and power, while a weak or limp handshake imparts coldness, weakness and uncertainty. A vice-grip, crushing handshake should be avoided because the person comes across as domineering or too forceful.
In the 1960s, the era's dominant youth culture created variant handshakes known as dap. Hands were slid together in different fashions. Sometimes people went through a complicated routine of shakes, slaps and chest bumps known by both parties. The modified handshake that had the most impact on our culture was the “high five.” This favorite of celebrating athletes involves hitting each other’s open palm raised above the shoulder.
Health concerns may replace the handshake with the fist bump
In the late 20th century, early 21st century, the fist bump greeting was added to the mix. This alternative handshake, probably invented by athletes who wanted to minimize the risk of a high five dislocating a finger, involves the two parties curling their fingers into fists and tapping or bumping them together.
Healthy authorities have endorsed the use of the fist bump, instead of hand-shaking. Most germs, such as the flu, are passed from one person's palms to the others during handshaking.
Evidence has been mounting that hands are the culprit in spreading diseases. This has led health authorities to look at the possibility of ending the reign of the unsanitary handshake.
- In 2005, comedian and germaphobe Howie Mandel brought the fist bump into the mainstream by greeting "Deal or No Deal" TV contestants with fist bumps.
- About 80% of all infections are transmitted by hands, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
- A study in the United Kingdom (reported in the August 2014 issue of the American Journal of Infection Control) found that fist bumping spreads significantly fewer bacteria than shaking hands.
- The June 25, 2014 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association called on U.S. hospitals and other health care facilities to ban handshaking.
- There’s a grass-roots Stop Hand Shaking movement. –TDowling
© 2014 Thomas Dowling