Tag Archives: Hand Gesture

In the Stone Signal

The informant is a third year in the USC Trojans Marching Band.

The gesture is, using my left hand to make kind of a fist, you’re holding it upright. And then you take the other hand, you point your pointer finger (laughs) and then you stick that finger in the hole that your fist makes. But it’s important that it’s standing up.

-Informant Describing the Gesture

[How do you use this gesture?] I’m in the band. The Trojan Marching band of USC, Fight On. [Fight on] And this (hand gesture) is what the director would make when he is trying to call this song. Often times you can’t really hear Jake (the director) over the crowd noise, so he’ll make the gesture so we can know what we’re playing even if we can’t hear him. And it’s passed down. I can turn around and make the gesture at someone behind me and they’ll get it and pass down the gesture (to people behind them). [For the studio audience here, what song does it signifying you’re playing?] It signifies that we are playing in the stone. [Do you know how it came to be?] I assume that the fist is meant to be the stone (laughs) and the finger is meant to be the sword in the stone, so that brings it together to the name-sword in the stone (laughs). [Finger in stone, got it]

-Interview with the Informant

The gesture is one of many that the USC Marching Band uses during games. Someone who is not in band would not know any of the hand gestures as they would have no use for them. The band has an incredible strong bond as a group, which is reflected in the oodles of folklore it contains. Even in the interview with this informant, there was a demonstration of the band’s unique atmosphere. The informant referred to Dr. Jacob Vogel as Jake, something that only band members second year or up are allowed to do. People outside of band probably don’t know its director by name (Dr. Jacob Vogel), and certainly wouldn’t know him by the name Jake.

Additionally, this gesture demonstrates how some folklore is spawned as a solution to a problem. In this instance, the problem that the band faces with communication. Because of how hectic the games, both football and other sports, are, they are unable to hear what the director calls next. They have to rely on each other to pass back the song called both verbally with hand signals and this reliance strengthens their bond as a folk group. The informant’s understanding of why the gesture is the way it is draws upon a well known legend of King Arthur. The informant says that the finger signifies a sword in the stone, the stone being made up of the other fist, a clear reference to the sword in the stone which is a central part of the King Arthur legend. The song’s title, In the Stone, does not reference a sword in the stone, but instead that the love described in the song was written in stone, a reference to the Biblical story in which Moses receives the ten commandments written on stone tablets. Whether or not the gesture is a reference to the sword in the stone or just a demonstration of something being in a stone, the reference to a different very widespread piece of folklore in a much more exclusive piece of folklore was worthy of note.

Shaka Handsign

Shaka Hand Sign – closed fist, thumb and pink extended

This hand gesture is very common in Pacific Islander culture and has spread over time to surfers and many Californian individuals. Original to Pacific Islander culture, the Shaka hand sign was a signal of Ohana or family, and even the broader belief of Shaka which was like “good vibes.” There are multiple variations as to what people think of and use Shaka for, but for the informant who is Pacific Islander, they found it to be an extension of the good/loving vibes of Ohana and to live life with the disciplines of having good days and the beliefs of Ohana.

“Crossed Fingers” Good Luck Necklace Pendant

Original Text: “My superstition or ritual I guess for getting good luck is this necklace my mom gave me for college auditions and it’s kind of just like a “crossing your fingers” pendant, like a little hand with crossed fingers for good luck. I rub it or touch it when I need luck. I feel like it has helped me because I got into my dream school, USC, and every time I wear it and touch it, it just feels like I’m getting good luck”

Context: The informant is 18 years old and studies musical theater at USC. Her family is Chinese, but she was raised in Singapore for most of her life. The informant was given this gold necklace with a crossed fingers charm by her mother for good luck during her college auditions. Her parents have “always supported my [her] pursuit of musical theater” and this necklace represents that. She always wears the necklace because it “means a lot” to her. She believes that the crossed fingers themselves amplify the luck already associated with the necklace.

Analysis: The necklace itself is fully gold, which in Chinese culture represents wealth, luck, and happiness. Her mom gifted her this piece of jewelry, which mirrors the common tradition of women gifting and passing down jewelry to each other that contain traditional knowledge, magic, or significance. Perhaps a man would not choose the same gift. The “crossed fingers” symbol that’s featured as a pendant is a common gesture for luck in Western culture and can be used to call on God for protection. Although this gesture is not uniquely Chinese or Singaporean, Singapore’s national language is English and the nation has a strong Western influence — explaining the luckiness of the “crossed fingers” for the informant and her family. 

Telephone Gesture

M is a 19 year old college student. She shares a gesture that she learned from her mother in Colorado Springs when she was a toddler playing pretend.

“When you mention you’re calling someone, you put your pinky out as the receptor and the thumb as the transmitter to motion you’re calling someone. When playing with my mom I’d pretend to be calling someone and my mom would answer with her “phone” that was actually her hand.” 

This gesture is particularly interesting because it is rapidly fading out. Now, if you ask a toddler or a child to show you them making a phone call, they’ll put their whole hand flat to their ear, replicating a cell phone. The informant and I are nearly the last generation to learn the gesture of a telephone using our fingers. The gesture is terminus post quem the invention of the dial telephone, and terminus ante quem the generation raised with cell phones. This shows how rapidly folklore changes, and how easy it is to lose folklore. My generation will be the last ones to use the finger gesture, and eventually it will entirely die out when kids barely remember what old phones used to look like. As technology rapidly changes, folklore is changing at an even faster rate than ever before. We have no clue what folklore might look like for children in 20 years. It will be interesting to see what folklore says, and which is phased out. 

L.A. Hand Sign



The informant learned this at a summer camp in San Diego from some girls from Los Angelos (L.A.).


The gesture is representative of an “L” and an “A.” As the initials of the city of Los Angeles, these two letters are an easy connection to the city. While this sign could be a gesture used to identify with other citizens of Los Angeles, the arrangement of the hands does not seem intuitive enough to me to align with this. Instead, I think this gesture is connected with experimentation on what shapes one’s hands can create. Like the hand llama this gesture could be used in a variety of ways and it stretches the traditional uses of hands.