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The Meaning of Common Hand Gestures Widely Used Across the World

Hand Gestures and their Meanings
In non-verbal communication, the manner in which we move our hands and fingers say a lot of things, good and bad. These movements of our hands that convey meaning are known as hand gestures. Some popular and commonly-used hand gestures include the sign of victory, stop, and okay.
Saptakee Sengupta
Last Updated: Mar 26, 2018
Quote on gestures
Hand gestures are expressive actions, which we display to communicate our messages. It is a non-verbal mode of communication, wherein we show up different movements of hands and fingers accompanied by various kinds of facial expressions. They have a wide range of meanings, and they are also emblematic of different religious and cultural traditions. Every individual movement has a meaning symbolizing various forms of perceptions.
The Meaning of Widely-used Hand Gestures
The meaning and significance of hand gestures can differ from one culture to another. Although people and cultures tend to interpret them in their own way, there are still some gestures which hold universal meanings, that is they mean the same everywhere in the world.
The "V" Sign
The V sign
~ Raise your index and middle fingers, and separate them so as to form the alphabet "V". Show it to people with your palm facing outwards, and you are showing them the sign of victory. This gesture was used widely at the time of WWII, in order to symbolize "V for Victory".
~ Then, in the 1960s, when the hippie movement gained impetus in the US, the same sign was used to indicate peace.
~ Interestingly, in countries, like Japan, China, South Korea, Thailand, and Taiwan, the "V" sign is often used (sometimes, also with the palm facing inwards) to tell a person that he/she is looking cute, while being photographed.
~ However, in the UK, Australia, South Africa, Ireland, and New Zealand, the "V" sign is considered to be an offensive gesture, especially if your palm is facing inwards.
Okay or A-oK
All okay
~ Raise your hand, and touch the tip of your index finger to the tip of your thumb to form a circular shape. Hold the remaining three fingers straight. This gesture signals the word okay, which means that everything is fine.
~ This gesture is one of the most important diving signals, and is used by divers, while they are under the water, to indicate that everything is fine.
~ While the gesture indicates the same meaning in the US, in Europe, it signifies an insulting overtone, whereas in Latin America, it is regarded as an obscene gesture.
Stop or Stay
Stop or Stay
~ Hold your hand upright, with the back of your palm facing inwards. This hand gesture indicates that you want someone to stop or stay wherever he/she is.
~ In the United States, 'stop' is depicted by showing the palm with all the fingers pointing upwards. This hand gesture also has other connotations like 'stay away' or 'talk to the hand'.
~ In Malaysia, raising the hand is explicitly done to summon waiters, or a person for conveying a message.
~ In Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, this gesture (when done with a right hand) is known as the Abhayamudra, and symbolizes safety and reassurance.
Pointing Fingers
Ppinting fingers
~ Pointing fingers normally means indicating some person/object. Extending the index finger to point something is probably the most common hand gesture. Even babies point their fingers at objects they want.
~ This could also mean placing a blame on someone.
~ Western cultures consider finger-pointing to be one of the most obscene hand gestures. Pointing the middle finger towards someone is a symbol of sexual disgrace.
Finger Curling
Calling someone
~ Extending the index finger and curling its tip means beckoning someone. When you call someone or try to seek attention, you usually use this gesture.
~ In the US, it is generally used to summon waiters. However, sometimes it is also regarded as a seductive gesture.
~ In Japan, it is considered to be extremely rude, while in Singapore, it indicates death.
~ Curling the index finger is popularly known as the 'dog call'.
Thumbs Up
Thumbs up
~ The thumb raised upwards, with the other fingers curled inwards is universally acknowledged as a gesture indicating "well done" or "things are great".
~ In Western cultures, it is a symbol of optimism.
~ However, in the Middle East, Latin America, Greece, Russia, and West Africa, the "thumbs up" gesture signifies an insult.
Thumbs down
Thumbs-down (thumb pointing towards the ground) signifies non-acceptance, failure, and rejection.
Crossed Fingers
Crossed fingers
~ This is one of the most popular hand gestures, used almost all over the world. When we cross the middle finger of either of our hands over the index finger of the same hand, this sign is formed.
~ Crossing fingers signifies anticipation and good luck. It also symbolizes fortune, hope, and expectation of something.
~ We keep our fingers crossed when we hope something good to happen, or even to nullify a promise.
~ In Christianity, crossing fingers signifies a plea to God for protection against evil. However, in some ancient folkloric traditions, such symbols represented 'lies'.
I hope you have found the hand gestures interesting enough. However, always be sure of their underlying meaning before communicating anything through these forms of non-verbal communication.