Author Archives: mrkashya

Gesture: ‘Whatever major loser’

Text/Gesture:

Description: W, E, M, L formed with fingers one after another

Context:

Informant: “The ‘Whatever Major Loser’ gesture was literally all the rage back in middle school [circa 2013]. My friends and I saw it in Camp Rock [Disney Channel Movie] and literally couldn’t stop doing it.”

Analysis:

Both the phrase “whatever major loser” and the “loser” hand gesture came to prominence in American culture in the ’90s and were seen as phrases/acts of non-compliance and defiance. Like most gestures which symbolize non-verbal cultural beliefs and attitudes, the “L” loser hand gesture, which is traditionally made with the index finger and thumb and directed towards others, symbolizes the more-rebellious and sarcastic nature of teenage and youth culture in the ’90s and is commonly interpreted as an act of playful or dismissing banter. The phrase “whatever major loser” symbolizes the same values and acts as the verbal counterpart to the gesture. Both the saying and gesture were popularized by media and pop culture throughout the ’90s and 2000s and are stylized in many youth/young adult TV shows and films.

Although less commonly seen, expressing a combination of the two symbols through 4 finger gestures of “W, E, M, L” carries the same tonality and weight as either symbol. However, unlike its slightly older counterparts, the W-E-M-L hand gesture saw its popularity grow in ‘Tween’ American culture in the early 2010’s as a more updated version of the ‘L’ gesture. The evolution of the two symbols into a brand new one designed for a new generation of ‘wannabe’ rebels shows both the permanence of this relatively newer stylization of lore as well as how rapidly evolving newer trends/lore have to be to stay relevant in a post-internet era. Because of society’s access to so many information, trends, and constantly changing cultural references, even gestures need to stay up-to-date to reflect the generations that follow.

Folk Object: A Bindi

Object:

Explanation: A woman wearing a traditional bindi on her forehead.

Context:

Informant: “Yeah, my mom always wears a bindi. She’s a pretty big Hindu, so she wears it at all times for religious regions.”

Analysis:

Bindis are South Asian folk objects; they’re traditionally small, circular felt stickers that are worn on the forehead , predominantly by women. Bindis are worn by Hindus and are used to symbolize purity, spirituality, and more important, the ‘third eye’, a common symbol in Hinduism. For thousands of years, bindis were worn by married women, in the color red specifically, and wear traditionally worn 24/7. Instead of being ‘stickers’, they were usually made from a type of paste—predominantly sandalwood—or dye. More recently, even in South Asian countries, many women only adorn them for religious or special occasions as opposed to wearing them day in and day out. New bindis are made from all types of materials in all different colors in fashion; in fact, they’ve become a statement piece for younger South Asian women. Youth and young women tend to wear much more flashy versions featuring gemstones and sequins; they also are allowed to wear every color by red, which is still reserved for married women. Many older women still wear them daily, as is the case of my informant’s mother.

Bindis are still hold tremendous cultural significance for Hindu women to this day. However, they’ve also been the subject of appropriation, especially by Western women. Many celebrities and influencers, especially in the US, have been the subject of scrutiny for wearing ‘fashionable’ bindis to events such as Coachella and red carpet premieres. This has been met with outrage by Hindu women who argue that wearing bindis in non-spiritual or cultural contexts devalues the history and significance behind the item. Similarly to the outcry over other symbol of cultural value such as La Llorona, the meaning behind bindis has slowly started to erode over the years. However, for many Hindu women they still carry the same power that they always have.

Tradition: Have a Great Summer!

Text:

Explanation: Have a Great Summer (H.A.G.S.) written in a yearbook.

Context:

Informant: “Literally from like 3rd to 9th grade, all I wrote in people’s yearbooks was ‘H.A.G.S.’. And that’s what they wrote in mine too.”

Analysis:

Across American K-12 schools, H.A.G.S is a common acronym written in annual yearbooks that are usually given out to students right before the end of a school year and the beginning of summer. H.A.G.S. stands for ‘Have a Great Summer’ and is a common way to casually wish fellow classmates a good summer without having to write out lengthy messages. Traditionally, the acronym is commonly followed by other popular cultural symbols such as a ‘text heart’ <3 or a smiley face :).

Yearbooks have been a popular symbol in American school culture since the late 19th century with the practice of signing yearbooks having strong cultural significance. Obviously the format and value of yearbooks have evolved since then but the societal relevance have still remained the same. The signing of the yearbook is a key part of that experience that usually occurs at key milestones such as graduation, class parties, and the like. Students sign both their friends’ yearbooks as well as general classmates and peers. Friends traditionally write heartfelt messages to each other while peers/acquaintances tend to write more generic messages to each other such as ‘H.A.G.S’, ‘Good Luck’, and the like. The interesting nuance with H.A.G.S. is that it is not a naturally common acronym; however, it is one that can be found at schools across America.

Younger generations especially are quick to adapt to new technologies, language, and trends; H.A.G.S. is a great example of that. The newest generations especially love their abbreviations: ‘L.O.L’, ‘B.R.B., and the like are all common acronyms that were adopted by youth culture and that have spread broadly across the world. H.A.G.S is a significantly less common acronym; in fact, very few over the age of 50 would know what it stood for. However, its popularity with school-aged Americans shows how homologized youth culture is across the country and how much of the shared youth cultural experience and traditions happen across backgrounds and locations.

Superstition: Don’t Eat with your Left Hand

Text:

It is a superstition in Indian culture to eat with your left hand.

Context:

Informant: “My Brown mother used to always tell me to not eat with my left hand. I always asked her why, and she was always like ‘it’s not good manners to do that.’ Don’t really know what that means if I’m honest.”

Analysis:

In traditional Indian culture, it is customary to eat most foods with one’s hands. The practice supposedly enhances the individual’s relationship with the meal they’re consuming and is a sensory experience that aligns with the Ayurvedic practices. At the end of the day, it’s a cultural tradition that has been passed down for generations.

In Hinduism, the right hand is viewed as pure and is associated with prosperity, blessings, and peace. In fact, the entire right side of the body is perceived as auspicious. On the other hand, the left hand is associated with less pure activities such as bodily hygiene and personal care, a notion that is reinforced by holy scripture. In Hinduism, all actions such as offering prayers cannot be done with the left hand for fear of bad luck. This superstition can be considered a taboo/ritual, where the practice of eating with the left hand is reinforced as taboo alongside the passed-down practice of eating with the right. Ultimately, this superstitious ritual has multiple layers that trace back to Indian culture; eating with one’s right hand both aligns with the cultural value of eating with hands while also avoiding the bad luck associated with the left hand.

Indian Proverb: “May you be blessed for a hundred new years”

The Proverb:

Text:

“May you be blessed for a hundred new years.” [Origin: Andhra Pradesh, India]

Context:

Informant: “So anytime that I call my mom at the exact same time that she’s trying to call me, she always picks up the phone with “[Informant’s name!], may you be blessed for a hundred new years”. My mother is of Telugu descent [South Indian Indigenous culture], and she says that the reason why she says that is because she’s so happy that I’m thinking of her at the same time that she’s thinking of me.”

Analysis:

My analysis of the use of this saying in the specific context of calling someone simultaneously differs slightly from that of my informant. In Hinduism, and specifically within indigenous/Dravidian cultures, coincidences like these, especially when two individuals complete the same action or thought at the same time, are perceived as inauspicious or bad luck. While the reasoning isn’t necessarily clear, a the roots for this superstition can be traced back to Vedic Astrology, which holds the belief that such coincidences disturb the cosmic balance and can bring about bad luck. Superstitions are common throughout Hinduism, and many take averting them seriously. Similarly to the expression “knock on wood”, I believe that this proverb is used in the context of warding off bad luck/karma.

In ancient Dravidian culture, the number 100, which is the number of years expressed in the Proverb, is constantly seen throughout holy scriptures as it symbolizes the idea of ‘completeness’ or a ‘complete cycle’. The number is considered auspicious, and by blessing someone for a 100 years, you are both wishing them prosperity and longevity across the ‘complete cycle of their life’. In Hindu culture, old age is tremendously respected as is health and abundance. Even non-Dravidian/non-Indigenous aspects of Hinduism recognize the value of the ‘100’. In Vedic astrology, several specific rituals are performed that supposedly grant recipients a ‘century of life’, which symbolizes a complete/fulfilled existence for the rest of your time. The inclusion of ‘new’ year instead of just year also indicates the idea of a complete cycle, as the new year signifies the beginning of a new yearly cycle. By examining both the proverb itself and the superstitious context in which it is said, there is strong evidence that this proverb is specifically used to ward of bad luck, especially in circumstances where one may be superstitious.