“The Universal Hand Signal for Being a Nerd”, as my informant cause is, is performed “when [you] or someone else says something nerdy”. To perform the gesture, one must “place your finger or hand on the bridge of your nose, with varying intensity…the intensity is directly proportional to how nerdy a person is being”. The gesture resembles a person pushing up their glasses onto the bridge of their nose, though the gesture can be done while not wearing glasses. Sometimes the gesture is accompanied with a small whine and a toothy smile. My informant clarifies the gesture can still be done while wearing glasses, “it’s actually probably better, though it can sometimes be confusing when you’re actually just trying to push up your glasses”.
My informant was a bit embarrassed to indulge that this “Universal Hang Signal” is not actually universal. She could not recall where exactly she learned the gesture from, though she believes that she picked it up in Fall 2012 from either a friend or a television show. Currently she has only seen the gesture used among her group of friends, though she “hope[s] it catches on”.
Though my informant emphasized that this gesture is often performed at people when they do something that could be considered especially “nerdy”, it’s important to note that the gesture is also done when the gesturer does something “nerdy” herself. If the gesture was only done at others, it could be seen as a form of bullying or exclusion; however, being able to turn the gesture on oneself adds an element of self-reflection. The gesture acts as a form of recognition, and even in fun, it shows a connection between the gesturer and the one being gestured to. It is an act of inclusion rather than exclusion, recognizing that both parties involved are aware of a “nerd culture” that they both recognize themselves in.
Regarding the physicality of the gesture, the motion of putting one’s finger to the bridge of their nose to mimic fixing eyeglasses engages with a cultural understanding of “the nerd” as defined by broad, widespread stereotypes of what defines a nerd – glasses, unattractive physicality, and a general social awkwardness. It does not surprise me that my informant could not remember whether she learned the gesture from a friend or picked it up from a television show, because it engages with images that have spread along with the boom in technology and communicative media. In a few years, because of how recognizable the nerd stereotype has become, perhaps this hand signal really will become universal.