10 Common Hand Gestures and Their Origins

by Unbelievable Facts5 years ago

6 Horn sign, the popular rock concert gesture, was originally a superstitious gesture used as a charm to ward off evil. It was Ronnie James Dio who made it popular in heavy metal music after learning the sign from his Italian grandmother.

Audience showing horn sign gesture in rock band concert, Horn Sign Gesture
Image credits: Pixabay, Pixabay

If you have ever been to a rock concert or you are just a rock music fan, then the horn sign, made by raising the index finger and the pinkie while other fingers are folded, must be very familiar to you. Well, much before it was used to symbolize rock music, the horn sign was used to ward off the ever-seeing evil eye.

It was only in 1979, when Ronnie James Dio became the lead singer for Black Sabbath, that the horn sign made its way to rock metal music. Before Ronnie, Ozzy Osbourne was the lead singer for the band, and his signature hand gesture, the double peace sign, had become a ritual among his fans. So, when Ronnie took the stage, he decided to introduce a new sign. He borrowed the horn sign that his Italian grandmother used as a means to ward off evil. He felt that the pagan association of the sign would fit perfectly with the band’s ideology.

Black Sabbath was not the first band to use the horn sign, but surely it was the band which made it popular. The gesture was used by the band Coven in 1969, which was a group that derived inspiration from counter-culture figures like Anton LaVey, a renowned Satanist, who used the horn sign to represent the Devil. (source)

7 The first confirmed “high five” was between LA Dodger teammates Dusty Baker and Glenn Burke. After Baker hit his 30th home run of the season, Burke met him with his hand held high over his head and Baker smacked it, later saying “It seemed like the thing to do.”

Baseball Players High Five, High Five Gesture
Image credits: MissChatter/Flickr, Pixabay

Who would have thought that something as simple as the high five would need to be invented? It seems like this is something that people should have been doing for a long time. But that’s not the case. Like everything, the high five has an origin and it was on 2nd October 1977.

Dusty Baker of the LA Dodgers completed his 30th home run on this day at Dodger Stadium. This made the Dodgers the first team in history to have four players with at least 30 home runs each. Glenn Burke, another team member, was waiting on deck, and he raised his hand high above head to greet his friend Baker. Baker, unaware of how to react to this unusual greeting, smacked Burke’s raised hand. “His hand was up in the air, and he was arching way back,” says Baker. “So I reached up and hit his hand. It seemed like the thing to do.”

From that day on, Burke and Baker high-fived their way through many games. What many people didn’t know at that time was that Burke was gay. He came out to the world about his sexual preference only after he retired in 1980. In 1982, he came out openly to the public in an Inside Sports magazine piece called “The Double Life of a Gay Dodger.”  The writer, who was a gay activist, then used the high-five gesture as an obstinate symbol of gay pride.

That is not the only tale of origin that has been told regarding the high-five. During a basketball practice at the University of Louisville, Wiley Brown gave a low five to his teammate Derek Smith. Smith didn’t accept it and instead said, “No. Up high.” He believed that since they jump so high on the court, why resort to just a low-five?

In another version of the origin, Lamont Sleets claimed that his father served in Vietnam in the 1st Battalion and his unit was nicknamed “The Five.” Their signature was the high-five gesture, and Sleets claimed that this is where the high-five came from. But this story turned out to be a hoax. (source)


8 The salute originated in medieval France when knights greeted each other by raising their visors. In the military as well, troops had to remove their headgear in the presence of superiors. This act of raising or removing headgear devolved to just touching the headgear and offering a salutation, hence the salute.

Personnel from the Royal Air Force, the British Army and the Royal Navy saluting
Image credit: Photo: Sgt Andy Malthouse ABIPP/MOD/Wikimedia

As the name suggests, the salute has its origins in the military. According to many military manuals, it originated in France. There, the knights used to wear a visor, the headgear made of steel that was part of the armor, and they would lift up their visors to pleasantly greet each other in a saluting motion.

There is another explanation regarding the origin of the salute. According to the US Army Quartermaster School, it is a custom in the military that in the presence of superiors, the subordinates are required to remove their headgear. A soldier would remove his headgear as a salute to his superiors. But when the headgear became too cumbersome in the 18th and 19th century, soldiers just resorted to the simple gesture of touching or holding their visor as a courteous salutation. Over time, this gesture evolved into the modern-day salute that we know today. (source)


9 The origin of the thumbs-up sign can be dated back to ancient Rome when, during gladiatorial combats, the spectators would use the thumbs-up sign when they wanted the gladiator to be put to death.

Gadiator looking up to the audience for their verdict on whether to kill him or bestow mercy upon him, Thumbs Up Gesture
Image credits: Jean-Léon Gérôme/Wikimedia, Pixabay

The thumbs-up sign is used commonly to give approval. For example, if you like a post on Facebook, you give it a thumbs-up. This gesture has actually gone on to become a metaphor in English literature. For example, saying “He gave me a thumbs-up on my performance” means that the person approved your performance, and he liked it.

There are many instances that depict the origin of the thumbs-up gesture. One goes back to as far as ancient Rome. As early as 110 BCE, gladiatorial combats were quite common in Rome. Once a gladiator was defeated, the winning gladiator would look up to the audience for their verdict on whether to kill him or bestow mercy upon him. The crowd would reply with gestures known as pollice verso. A thumbs-up by crowd indicated that the defeated gladiator should be spared, and a thumbs-down meant that he should be killed.

But according to a classical studies professor, Anthony Corbeill, it was actually the thumbs-up sign that signaled killing the defeated gladiator, while a closed fist with the thumb wrapped around signaled sparing him. (source)


10 Crossing fingers for good luck came from the pre-Christian era when two people would form a cross using their index fingers while making a wish. Eventually, it evolved into crossing two fingers of the same hand.

Votive hand ( 3rd century AD ) with crossed fingers, Man with Crossed Fingers, Crossed Fingers Gesture
Image credits: Wolfgang Sauber/Wikimedia, Pixabay, Emoji One/Wikimedia

Do you often cross your fingers while wishing for good luck? Do you often tell your friends to keep their fingers crossed while awaiting some important news? Then, my friend, you are taking part in an ancient ritual!

Yes, crossing fingers is an ancient custom prevalent in the pre-Christian era. The only difference between today’s gesture and the ancient one is that earlier two people were required to perform the ritual. Two people would intersect their index fingers with one being the wisher and the other being a supporter and a believer in your wish. The concept originated from the pagan belief that the intersection of a cross is the dwelling place of many good spirits. People believed that making a wish on a cross would enable the wish to be worked on by the good spirits until it was fulfilled. Also, wishes made in such a way had better chances of getting fulfilled as the good spirits would keep evil away.

As time went by, the requirements of this custom eased, and people could now wish by just crossing their own fingers without the aid of another person. The custom has become informal and secular in modern times. Today, it has evolved from two people crossing their index fingers to people crossing their own fingers, and finally to people just saying they are keeping their fingers crossed without actually doing the act. (source)

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