Tag Archives: Hand Gesture

Thumb War Masturbation Joke


“One, two, three, four,

I declare a thumb war.

Five, six, seven, eight,

I use this hand to masturbate.”

The joke is performed in the context of a traditional “thumb war,” in which two opponents hold hands and attempt to press down the other person’s thumb.


AD is a college student from New Jersey. He first heard this joke in middle school, around sixth or seventh grade. “It was right in the beginning of puberty,” he explained. “So nobody really knew what was going on.”

Thumb war tournaments at recess and lunchtime were already a big thing at AD’s school, and there was one boy who would perform the joke. “He was always the kid that would say that kind of stuff… Everybody was scared to say that word, but he would say it,” AD explained. “Everybody would get around him and wait for him to get somebody new. We would go up to the younger kids and do it, too.”

“If you didn’t know, you would freak out the first time you heard it.” The trick is that you are holding hands when the ‘punchline’ drops. “That’s the fun part,” AD said.

AD noted that the joke was exclusively performed among boys.

“It’s stupid now, but back then it was the funniest thing.”


AD’s joke stood out to me largely because I had never heard of it before. Another male-identifying friend of mine from California had an experience almost identical to that of AD, even from across the country. As someone who has been socially conditioned as a woman, it made me curious about the differences between boys’ and girls’ experience of the social construction of their sexuality.

It is not surprising that such a joke was popular as AD and his peers entered puberty. Jokes have a normalizing function, providing a safe space for pubescent boys to explore their sexuality.

However, the boys’ self-policing contained the joke within their gender, and I am unaware of an equivalent masturbation joke for girls at this age. I see this discrepancy as deeply reflective of the differences in the social construction of boys’ and girls’ sexuality during puberty. Masturbation is an action — an act of agency over one’s body and sexuality. That the normalization of this action is denied to girls of the same age thus denies them a form of agency over their sexuality.

In a larger context, the deficit of sexual jokes of any nature among pubescent girls may contribute to a lack of knowledge about their sexuality, and feelings of shame due to missing out on the normalizing function of such jokes. This can lead to misinformation or shame about sex and sexual development, rendering teenage girls vulnerable to sexual abuse. 

I would argue that folklore in the form of sexual jokes can function as a form of sex education and that pubescent girls may benefit from sharing this folklore amongst each other — especially with relatively harmful jokes, such as this one. (Note how AD now finds the joke “stupid.”)

Lastly I would comment on the adult policing of pubescent sexuality. It really stood out to me that only one boy was bold enough to say the word ‘masturbation’ in a public context, under the potential surveillance of teachers. Such jokes are seen as taboo and ‘dirty’ even as they can have a positive function. I am curious how the awareness of adult policing of sexuality at this age may contribute to shame surrounding sexuality for both boys and girls equally.

The “Peace Sign” Gesture


“There’s one gesture I do all the time,” the informant prefaced.

They lifted their hand to a position beside their face. Aside from the index and middle finger straightened out, the hand would’ve been in a fist. Initially, they posed with their palm faced-out and their extended fingers pointed towards their cheek. This sort of pose seemed to lead directly into them popping their hip out. Adjusting the pose slightly, they faced their palm toward themself, pulling in their elbow and having the extending fingers positioned parallel to their cheek. With this pose, they automatically popped out the other hip.

They shrugged. “It’s just something I always do.”


The informant has a deep relationship with this gesture. It’s something they say they do instinctually– like waving at someone you know from afar or looking up when you’re in deep thought.

This gesture couldn’t be pinpointed to a specific point of origin for them. From what they know, the “peace sign” gesture was brought to them as a culmination of exposure to it from an assortment of friends and family.

They interpret it as a friendly, playful gesture that’s easy to do. Generally, it’s used as a pose when taking pictures or as a greeting pose towards friends.


While I understand that different cultures have different meanings behind the “peace sign,” this particular use of it is something common in the culture I’m in. It’s a pose that can be adjusted in a variety of ways as was demonstrated to me by the informant. Regardless of the posture, it’s always used as a positive, cutesy gesture. The inclusion of it in a pose is usually rather flashy and attention-grabbing in some way or another.

Hand Lizard

This hand gesture is supposed to look like a snake or lizard. There are multiple variations, where the pinkies are used as a tongue vs used as a tail, but the main concept is that it looks like a reptile

My informant learned about it in elementary school. It was way to differentiate who was “in the know or who was not”, sort of as cool thing you could do with your hands. However, the hand gesture was not exclusive, in that if someone didn’t know how to do the gesture they would be taught.

I recognized this hand gesture as it was something I used to do in my childhood despite being us growing up 4 years apart and across the country. Much like my informant, for my childhood it was used as something cool you can do when you were bored and it wasn’t ever withheld from others.

Counting to 10 with one hand in Chinese


S, 19 was born in China and moved to Canada at a young age. She told me about a way of counting to 10 on a single hand through a series of hand and finger gestures. I took a video of the informant counting to 10 in this fashion.




This method of counting makes it convenient for a person to count using only one hand; it also is a good way of teaching children to count, since each number has its own gesture and it is different from traditional western finger counting (the number of fingers is the number you are on, so you are limited by the number of fingers you have). This method of counting allows a person to reach the number 100 by using both hands. This article further explains this method, as well as how to continue counting past 10: https://www.instructables.com/HOW-TO-COUNT-TO-TEN-ON-ONE-HAND-in-Chinese/

Jeep Wave

Main Piece:

So my thing is more of a gesture. It’s kind of something that happens and I didn’t know about it till after I got my car. But basically, once you get the Jeep, there’s something known as a Jeep wave. And so basically it’s with, I don’t really know, like, I think there are different variations of how you do it. But the one I was told is that you put one hand and one hands on the wheel, and it’s just like, three of your fingers are just like couple your fingers up. And it’s the idea is if you see a Jeep, like driver and you and you’re driving your Jeep and you’ll see each other you do a Jeep wave. And it’s a form of like a community type thing, but like it’s really just like a wave that you do. So

Relationship to the Piece:

My informant has driven a Jeep for the last few years and was told this by his friend who also drove a Jeep and it’s become a way for him to connect to his community of Jeep drivers, especially as he recently began to drive his Jeep around LA. 


My informant is a 19-year-old BFA lighting design student at the University of Southern California and I was told this as we were hanging out in a theatre on campus swapping tales of folklore. 


I’d never heard of the Jeep wave, but I think it makes sense, as especially in America, the cars we drive often become aspects of our identity, especially with all the stereotypes we associate with certain makes and models of vehicles. It makes sense that a little community would form around certain cars, but it also creates questions, like who began the gesture and how it spreads.