Overview of Emblematic Gestures

Emblems are nonverbal signals with a verbal equivalent or direct verbal translation. They are deliberate movements of the body that are consciously sent and easily translated into speech, such as a wave that means “come here,” a thumbs-up gesture that means “okay,” and a wave that means “hello” or “good-bye.”

Emblems are easily identified because they’re frequently used in specific contexts. The person receiving the gesture immediately understands what it means.

Oftentimes, we use emblems when noise or distance makes it less feasible that we will be understood through the use of words alone. Traders on the floor of a stock exchange and sports umpires and coaches on the playing field use emblems regularly; for them, emblems compose a gesture system.

Examples of Emblems

Most common gestures of emblems include:

  1. Victory sign emblem
    The V-shaped sign
    Here the palm of the hand faces forwards with the middle and forefingers held erect. The V-shape emblem is commonly known as ‘victory sign’ after it was made popular by Winston ChurchillOpens in new window particularly during the Second World War, when he raised his fingers in ‘V’ to symbolize victory.
  2. The raised arm and clenched fist
    Anthropologically, the raised arm and clenched fist is a warning sign, combined with a gesture of self-defence.
    clenched fist showig solidarity
    A Union showing solidarity. Image by Docs PopuliOpens in new window

    An invariable symbol of resistance and unity, the clenched fist is part of the broader category of hand symbols that include the ‘V’ for victory or peace, the clenched fist on chest, the forward-thrust hand/fist, and the clasped hands that make up part of humanity’s non-verbal communication. The clenched fist also implied possession of something precious that needed to be guarded vigilantly (The PatriotOpens in new window).
  3. chiasmus diagram showing abba pattern
    A Insulting gesture finger
    The Middle finger
    Americans hold the middle finger of the hand in an upright position, with the back of the hand facing out. In Britain it’s more common to hold up your index and middle fingers with the back of your hand facing out. Both gestures mean the same thing and the meaning’s quite rude.
  4. The Sign of the Cuckold
    The sign of the cuckold is formed by extending your index and little fingers upward while holding the middle and ring fingers down with the thumb, making ‘horns’. Your thumb crosses over your two middle fingers.
    Fingers forming the cuckold sign
    Fingers forming the cuckold sign. Image courtesy of Exotic Travel GirlOpens in new window
    This hand gesture carries various meanings across cultures. If you show this hand gesture to an Italian, you are telling that his partner has been unfaithful. In Texas, this gesture is the sign for fans of the University of Texas Longhorns football team and has nothing to do with infidelity.