Tag Archives: Hand Gesture

1960s Elementary School Hand Gesture

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 59
Occupation: Former curator
Residence: San Diego, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 25, 2018
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

AH is the informant, my mom, and PH is myself.

PH: Do you have any folklore for my project?

AH: I don’t think I know any folklore…
(She then mentioned some stories that are told by other family members, but wasn’t comfortable telling herself.)

PH: You know so much folklore and you don’t even know it! It’s not just ghost stories, it’s sayings or games or hand movements you do, anything that you were taught in an unofficial capacity… Like, when you were younger, didn’t you put your hand up in a C or something?

AH: Oh yes, how do you know about that?

PH: You’ve told me before!

AH: How do you remember this?

PH: I just remember! Now, can you explain this to me as if I’ve never heard it before?

AH: When I was a kid in the ‘60s, and someone called you a name on the playground, teasingly or not…and now [current day] maybe you’d say “same to you, or something”…

PH: Like, “I know you are, but what am I?”

AH: Oh, yes, we had that too… So, then we would hold our hands up, and form our hands in the shape of a C with the thumb on the bottom, and curve it in the shape of a C, and so that whatever they said would zoom around the curve and go back to them like a boomerang

PH: Okay, anything else to add?

AH: Well then they would put their hands up and do the same thing and it would go back (laughs)

PH: You said “their hands”? Plural?

AH: They, as in people in general, but just one hand…. So that would’ve been the late ‘60s when people started to say “cool” and “man” and stuff like that

PH: Do you remember how you learned that?

AH: No, it was…I don’t know if it was made up in our school or if it was something everyone did at that time

PH: What age would you do this?

AH: I’d say.. Probably second through fifth grade

PH: Do you think it was an age thing, that everyone at that age was doing it, or a time period thing, as in people from different age groups were all doing it at that time…?

AH: I doubt if high schoolers would do it… It might’ve gone to middle school..

PH: Does this have a name?

AH: Ohh… shoot. I don’t know.. “Back to you?” I don’t know.

PH: So there was a name?

AH: No probably not.. I wonder if it had anything to do with Star Trek, which was around that time too! (laughs)

PH: Really? Just because it’s a hand movement?

AH: No, I don’t know! (Laughs)


Hand Gesture – Korea

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean
Age: 52
Occupation: Business Owner
Residence: Newport Coast
Date of Performance/Collection: 2/17/17
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s): English

My informant was born in South Korean, but moved to America when she was 16 years old. She explained to me how when she first moved, she was very confused by some of the cultural differences including hand gestures.

In America, we wave people over with our palms facing up. A similar motion that is common in western culture to beckon someone over is curling the index finger. However, in Korea both of these are considered extremely rude and degrading. They typically use the same hand motions to gesture over dogs.

Respect is a huge attribute in Asian culture. It is deeply rooted in family and demonstrated formally through gestures and language. Therefore, using the “American wave” on a human is equivalent to treating or calling them an animal. Koreans will signal people over by having their palm face down, and using a little “digging” or small swimming motion with their hand. Another way to describe it would be having your palm face down and waving it up and down vertically. If you tried calling a cab in Korea using the Western style wave, you would undeniably be rejected and ignored.

At first, my informant thought that Americans were “kind of arrogant and snobby.” She didn’t realize that there would be a significantly different meaning in something as trivial as gesturing someone over. She eventually caught on that people were not intentionally trying to be rude, and that it was just part of western culture to call people over using the palm facing up.

This made me really think about how important it is to be culturally aware, especially while traveling. There are so many little differences that may seem insignificant, but is actually really important to recognize. It helps us better understand our global peers and can prevent us from accidentally offending others.

Awkward Tortoise

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American/German
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Santa Cruz, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/8/16
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): German

Awkward tortoise is a hand gesture one does in an uncomfortable social situation.

My informant was a 19 year old college student.

What’s Awkward Tortoise?

GB: Awkward tortoise is something you do with your hands when you’re in an awkward situation. You stack your two hands and wag your two thumbs in opposite directions. I think it’s because if a tortoise were to move its flippers that way, it wouldn’t go anywhere, just in circles, and I guess that’s awkward


The Awkward Tortoise hand gesture has also been referred to as “Awkward Turtle”, although the informant was not aware of that. There is also an alternative version in which both thumbs move in the same direction.