Wednesday 18 April 2012

Culture: Gestures -- The OK, Hang Ten & Loser Signs

Little M.J. with the OK sign
Image from we talk anything, anything about Se.Mio.Tic.
I think some of you still remember my entry titled Culture: Italian Popular Gestures. Previously, I told my students to research on cultural differences and yesterday in one lesson, a student of mine did a nice one on the "OK" gesture.

To many, the sign will mean nothing but simply "OK" or "OK?", but is that universal? Are there exceptions in some countries and doing that will cause embarrassment? It is worth looking into.

Yan Pu (left) and Julie Len with a group of vaccinated children
in Le Du County, flashing the “OK” sign, the symbol that the
Jade Ribbon Campaign implemented to indicate protection from hepatitis B. 

Image from
Quoting from Wikipedia,
  1. In some Mediterranean countries, as well as in Brazil, it represents vulgar expressions: either an insult (you are an asshole), or the slang for anus itself.*
  2. In Australia and Portugal, it can either mean okay or zero.
  3. In Chinese number gestures, it is the hand gesture for number three.**
  4. A similar gesture, the Vitarka mudra ("mudra of discussion") is the gesture of discussion and transmission of Buddhist teaching. 
  5. In Japan, it also means zero or money.***
* I have consulted my Brazilian friend / Assistant Professor Francisco at the Hong Kong Polytechnic Univeristy about this, and he said the following,

"yes, it is absolutely correct, but there are two things. the way it is in the picture, with the three strechted fingers  upwards, that means perfect. if they are down, that it is extremely rude. we just don't use it to mean 'good job, perfect' because it seems out-of-date, old-fashioned. and the other one, well... too rude and offensive."

** In Hong Kong, seems like this one is more for the older generations, because the easier way is to use the middle three fingers instead of the last three.

*** Last night, I went to have dinner and consulted my good "Sister" / friend / student Sally, who is an expert of Japanese language, as well as two local Japanese gentlemen, and they all agree that this sign can mean zero or money, and they explained that it means money because it is the shape of  a coin; however, they also said it can also mean OK in Japan.

Vitarka mudra, Tarim Basin, 9th century
Image from Wikipedia
So, that's it for the OK sign.

Then when I was reading the recent hit article on titled How to be a Hong Kong local: 10 tips on faking it, I saw the following Obama gesture which the article called it the "hang ten" hand sign.

Obama with the Shaka sign for the the Punahou Marching Band from Oahu, Hawaii
Image from Peter Bowes
In Hong Kong, it means the number 6. Do a little search on Wikipedia and I found that "Hanging Ten" is a surfer's phrase which means standing on the surfboard with ten toes over the edge while surfing.
Hang Ten, look at her toes please!
Image from 160over90

Further research unveiled the true name of this gesture -- the Shaka sign, and it is often associated with Hawaii, which is also why Obama showed off this gesture when he was at the 2009 Inaugural Parade with the Punahou Marching Band from Oahu, Hawaii

As for the meaning, Wikipedia said "Depending on context it can also be used to communicate notions such as "thank you", "hi", "howzit", and the like."
Image from Weird Worm
Last but not least, the most popular gesture on the show TopGear, if you have watched the show I have recommended last time in the entry, Listening & TV: Skeleton VS Mini-Cooper @ TopGear, you should not be surprised to see the following gesture.

The Loser Sign by Jeremy Clarkson of TopGear
Image from Flickr
In the show, it is used to address the lost party as "Loser", exceptions on Wikipedia are too minor so this hand gesture can be considered as rather universal, but demeaning.

There will be more discussions on gestures in the future, so please support, subscribe and like this entry and the English Playground!!

vulgar -- (adj) disapproving rude and likely to upset or anger people, especially by referring to sex and the body in an unpleasant way
anus -- (n)[C] the opening at the end of the alimentary canal through which solid waste leaves the body
Hang Ten -- (n)[U] a surfer's phrase which means standing on the surfboard with ten toes over the edge while surfing.
Inaugural -- (adj) [before nounan inaugural speech is the first speech someone gives when starting an important new job / an inaugural event is the first in a series of planned events
demeaning -- (adj) causing someone to become or feel less respected

Culture: Italian Popular Gestures @ Locky's English Playground

How to be a Hong Kong local: 10 tips on faking it @ CNNGo

OK Sign @ Wikipedia

Hang Ten @ Wikipedia

Shaka Sign @ Wikipedia

Listening & TV: Skeleton VS Mini-Cooper @ TopGear  @ Locky's English Playground

TV: TopGear (with fast cars and British accent)  @ Locky's English Playground

Loser @ Wikipedia