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Home » Body Language, Effective Communication Skills, Interpersonal Skills

Hand Gestures: Meaning Behind the Hand

by Laurie Wilhelm

Using Hand Gestures: Meaning

Hand gestures are forms of non verbal communication which, at times, can convey much more information that words. While they are sometimes considered body language, many hand gestures can actually replace a verbal phrase. In other words, we use them in place of words because of the situation. This occurs if it’s, for example, inappropriate to make a sound as during a lecture. Instead of calling out, we use hand gestures to communicate to the person we would have like to speak to. Or perhaps we’re attending a reception and see someone we want to acknowledge so we use a friendly hand gestures instead.

Hand Gestures: Meaning to Keep in Mind

Here are some hand gestures decoded that we tend to use in our daily lives (in North America, anyway) although it by no means represents all hand gestures.

Fingers are kept straight (horizontally) and held together with the thumb touching the fingers underneath. The fingers then move (together) upwards while the thumb moves downwards. The fingers and thumb move in opposite directions, “opening” and “closing,” several times to suggest a mouth speaking (it also looks sort of like a duck quacking). This hand gesture is used to mimic an individual who is talking too much and saying too little. It can also be used to indicate a boring conversation.

CommunicateTheEasyWay550x100 Hand Gestures: Meaning Behind the Hand

Check, please
Restaurant hand gestures like this one is used when finished the meal and the individual would like the server to bring the bill. This is easily communicated by by touching the index finger and thumb together, like one would hold a pen, then moving the hand in the air as if to be signing a cheque or credit card slip.

Cuckoo sign
The index finger points towards the ear, making a circular motion at the side of the head. This means that the person speaking is saying nonsense, “crazy talk” or is acting in a “crazy” manner.

ILY sign
hand gestures 1 sm Hand Gestures: Meaning Behind the HandThis is one of the really nice hand gestures which means to say “I love you.” It combines the sign language letters ‘I’, ‘L’, and ‘Y’ by extending the thumb, index finger with the little finger while, at the same time, the middle and ring fingers are touching the palm of the hand.


Loserhand gestures 2 sm Hand Gestures: Meaning Behind the Hand
This is one of the not-so-nice hand gestures which is made by extending the thumb and index finger to resemble the letter L. This stands for “Loser” and is used as an insult.


Shaka sign
Back to the nice hand gestures! hand gestures 4 sm Hand Gestures: Meaning Behind the HandThe Shaka sign extends the thumb and little finger upward. It’s a Hawaiian hand gesture that represents friendship.


Here the thumb and little finger are extended outward with the remaining fingers resting tightly against palm. The hand is then lifted as one would lift a phone receiver to their mouth and ear. This is often accompanied by the individual mouthing the words “call me” or “I’ll call you.


V sign
The V sign is made by extending upward the index and middle fingers and then spreading them apart to represent a “V” for Victory. One word of caution: when making this sign, be sure to have the front of your palm facing the person you’re communicating with. Having the back of your hand facing outwards is an insulting gesture in the UK. This sign is also known as the peace sign.

Air quotes
Motions made by raising both hands, palms down and with the index and middle fingers of each hand held together as the remaining fingers and thumb remain closed into the palm are had gestures meaning that what the person is saying is expressing sarcasm or stretching the truth. It’s used to indicate to the listener not to take what is being said literally.

Tapping index finger on temple
Here, an individual takes his index finger and taps on the side of his head, usually around the temple area. This hand gesture is used to communicate to others to think about what is being said or “use your head.” If used in an arguement or to critizise someone for getting something wrong, it is insulting.

CommunicateTheEasyWay550x100 Hand Gestures: Meaning Behind the Hand

Hand Gestures: Meaning Different Things in Different Parts of the World

Before heading out into the world using the hand gestures that are commonly used in your area, you may want to do some research to find out what’s acceptable and where. In lieu of that, it may be better simply to forego hand gestures while travelling to avoid any unintentional offences.

For example, the a-ok hand gesture where we take our index finger and touch it to the tip of our thumb to make a circle while leaving the remaining three fingers pointing upwards, this is a positive hand gesture in North America. However, this hand gesture is offensive in several parts of southern Europe as well as in South America.

Another example is the “thumbs up” gesture where the thumb is pointed upwards and the fingers are curled into a fist position. In most of Latin America, West Africa and the Middle East, as well as Greece, Russia and the south of Italy, this hand gesture has a very similar meaning as raising the middle finger in North America.

There are many, many hand gestures that come in handy. icon wink Hand Gestures: Meaning Behind the Hand However, if you’re uncertain if hand some gestures are acceptable in a certain context and in a certain geographical area, it’s best not to use them at all.

We have a couple other articles on body gestures including Body Gestures and Hand Gestures and Face Gestures

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