Monday, January 19, 2009

annoying American gestures

Every five years or so, American culture invents a gesture I find annoying. One example from the 90s would be the half-done fist pump that accompanies the victorious interjection "Yes!" I say "half-done" because the motion isn't a complete pump: the fist starts in an "up" or "forward" position, then is yanked toward the body, almost like a fist returning to its default position in taekwondo. The resultant motion feels incomplete, which is one reason I've never liked it. The much cooler-- and much older-- version of that gesture is a full movement in which the gesturer punches the air. The fist goes out and comes back naturally. That's how you express victory.

These days, though, the gesture that's really beginning to chap my ass is this forked-finger movement that signifies "Look at me!" or "I'm watching you!" The gesture involves making a prong of your index and middle fingers, then jabbing them toward your own eyes as if you're trying to poke them out. The gesturer might also jab toward his interlocutor's eyes to reinforce the self-other connection. While some form of this gesture has been around for a long time, its use was restricted to a very specific context: getting a child to look at you. Now, however, the gesture is ubiquitous-- at the store, on TV, everywhere. There's no escaping it.

I'm hoping the eye-fork enjoys a short vogue and dies a quick death, much like the surfer expression "Yar, dude," which blighted the east coast for about a year-- the 1988-89 academic year, in fact, when I was a sophomore in college. This expression was sometimes accompanied by its own gesture, too: the thumb and pinky were extended while the three middle fingers were curled tightly; the back of the hand was shown to the recipient of the gesture, along with a cheerful, gaping smile. This looked almost exactly like the gesture seen on those old, 1980s-era A&W Root Beer commercials, where the thumb and pinky represented the handle of a beer mug and were used to grasp the A&W can. That association may be one reason why the gesture died out so quickly on the east coast. (Do they still do it in Hawaii?)

As we stand upon the threshold of a new era, let's stop with the wussified gesturing, leave gang signs to gangstaz, and use our limbs for something cooler, whatever that might mean.


1 comment:

Charles said...

"Yar, dude"?

Were these surfers also pirates, by any chance?