Gestures are non-verbal communications used to communicate some important messages in the backdrop of a specific culture or audience. They are used in place of spoken words or speech and utilize movements of the hands, face, or other body parts. Gestures are different from sign language in that sign language has grammar in addition to well-established hand shapes and movements contrary to the arbitrary and random hand movements in gestures. Whereas sign language is developed by professionals and learned by educationalists, a gesture, at times, emerges spontaneously, for example, during a speech by a political leader, a hero, or a celebrity. The interpretation of a gesture is subject to one’s cultural background as a gesture that is considered complimentary by one community may be regarded as highly offensive by another. Many gestures have historical backgrounds and have been used without alteration since long ago.
1. The Bellamy Salute
Roots of the Bellamy Salute are traceable to the National School Celebration of Columbus Day when it was first demonstrated on the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus reaching the Americas. Francis Bellamy created this salute for the flag raising ceremony along with the recital of the Pledge of Allegiance. It was described in The Youth’s Companion 1982. Pupils were required to face towards the flag and to repeat the pledge of allegiance. At the words ‘to the flag’ are spoken, the right hand is raised with the palm upward and towards the flag while remaining in this position till the end of the affirmation. President Eisenhower added the words ‘under God’ to create the 31-worded current pledge: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” It is performed by standing attentively, facing the flag with the right hand over the heart.
2. Benediction and Blessing
A benediction and blessing gesture is shown by a raised right hand with the little and ring finger touching the palm while the middle and index fingers are kept raised and the thumb outstretched. The gesture is an assurance of blessings. In Christianity, a cross is made by touching the forehead, chest or stomach, and both shoulders in a sequence to draw an imaginary, upside-down cross. During its conduct, the words ‘In the Name of the Father’ or ‘Nomine Patris,’ are said while touching the forehead, ‘and of the Son’ or ‘et Filii’ is said at the stomach, and ‘of the Holy Spirit’ or ‘et Spiritus Sancti’ is said at the shoulders, and it ends with ‘Amen.’
3. Clenched Fist
Having a clenched fist is a very old gesture, mostly indicating solidarity but rarely used as a threat when pointed towards someone. During a meeting with the Russian President Nikita Khrushchev, the former U.S. President Kennedy used the clenched fist to show solidarity with the Russian President. The former U.S. President Bill Clinton used his thumbs up type of typical gesture whenever he intended to emphasize something during his speech. His specific style is famously known as the ‘Clinton Thumb.’ It is only an emphatic gesture and is mostly devoid of any threatening element. Many other politicians have used the ‘Clinton Thumb’ for laying an emphasis on certain points in their speeches.
The gesture of two persons grasping one another’s hands to express their friendship or good will is known as a handshake and is traceable to the 5th century B.C. as evidenced from the handshake of Hera and Athena in the Acropolis Museum of Athens. Another archaeological find, a stele showing Thraseas and his wife Euandria shaking hands, is on display in the Pergamon Museum, Berlin. President Theodore Roosevelt set a record of 8,510 handshakes on January 1, 1907 at a White House reception. His record was, however, broken by the Atlantic City, New Jersey Mayor Joseph Lazarow who shook more than 11,000 hands in a day during a publicity stunt and was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records.
Hitchhiking, variously known as thumbing, tramping, hitching, or taking a lift, is to seek the favor of a short- or long-distance ride for free in an automobile. It is historically traceable to the Great Depression when Wall Street crashed in October, 1929 and culminated into a decade-long period of high unemployment, poverty, and deflation. Being unable to own some sort of transportation, people were constrained to resort to hitchhiking. With the rise of associated crimes, many States declared it as an illegal practice and warned the hitchhikers against criminal drivers, and warned the drivers against criminal hitchhikers. In many countries, like the Netherlands and Israel, not only is hitchhiking considered legal but also a preferred option, and the governments provided suitable hitchhiking points. A modern version of hitchhiking is carpooling as a search through the Internet.
6. Nazi Salute
The Nazi salute was used by the Nazi party to show their loyalty to Germany and Hitler. To perform the Nazi salute, the right arm was extended and the hand straightened. It was compulsory for all the civilians except the army. However, at a later stage, the army too was to follow the same style at the orders of Hitler. It was compulsory to perform this salute during the performance of the national anthem. The salute was a routine greeting and was followed by ‘Hail Hitler.’ School children were taught to perform this salute during their early education. It is now a criminal offence to perform the Nazi salute in some countries. Due to the resemblance between the Bellamy pledge with the Nazi salute, the former was modified with the induction of the hand on the heart while performing the U.S. allegiance pledge.
7. Black Power Salute
On October 16, during the 1968 Olympic Games, U.S. athlete Tommie Smith won the 200-meter race in a world record time of 19.83 seconds while the Australian athlete Peter Norman stood second finishing the race in 20.06, and the American athlete John Carlos completed it in 20.10 standing third in the event. During the medal ceremony, Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised a black-gloved fist, facing the flag, and kept it raised till the anthem was finished. The gesture was known as the Black Power Salute and is remembered as a unique event in the history of the Olympic Games.
8. Thumbs Up
Thumbs up is a gesture made with a clenched hand raising one thumb erect vertically. Although one thumb is used, the gesture is popularly known as ‘thumbs up.’ Historically, the gesture originated in the time of the ancient Roman Empire when the audience in a colosseum raised their thumbs up or pointed it downward to tell the emperor present in the ceremony about their opinion. ‘Thumbs up’ meant the fighter was a victor and should be freed while ‘thumbs down’ meant the fighter was a loser and should pay the penalty. The emperor in the later case made the thumbs up gesture, and the fighter slave was immediately freed while in the case of the loser, he pointed the thumb downward and the fighter slave was immediately executed.
9. The V Sign
The V sign is a gesture shown by raising the index and middle fingers parted in the shape of the letter ‘V.’ Depending upon the cultural background and the mode of display, the sign is interpreted differently. With the palm facing towards the signer and the back of the hand towards the observer, the sign is taken as an insult while the palm facing towards the observer and back of the hand facing towards the signer, the gesture means ‘V’ for ‘victory.’ Fictionally, it originated during the 100 Years War when the French used to cut the two bow strings using fingers of the long bowmen, and their friends raised their two fingers to express solidarity with them. The sign was popularized when used by celebrities like Winston Churchill, Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and singer Rihanna.
10. Red Roses
Next only perhaps to the heart sign, a red rose is the most popular gesture for expressing love as expressed all over the world on Valentine’s Day. One of the most famous celebrity couples, the famous baseball player Joe DiMaggio and one of the most renowned actresses in history Marilyn Monroe, were married only for 274 days. Joe DiMaggio, popularly known as Joltin Joe, remained infatuated with the legendary Marilyn Monroe throughout his life. Joe never remarried and never commented upon her death. As a romantic gesture, he regularly sent red roses to Los Angeles to be laid on her grave. He practiced this gesture 3 times a week for a continuous 20 years.
It is said proverbially that a photograph is worth more than thousand words, but isn’t a gesture sometimes more than a thousand photographs? One, sincere drop of a tear may do wonders that a long and eloquent speech cannot achieve. Rubbing his tearful eyes, President Obama, after he won re-election, said in an emotional farewell speech ‘What you guys have accomplished will go on in the annals of history, and they will read about it and they’ll marvel about it.’