Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Obscene Gestures Of The World

Cheastypants suggested I make list of various obscene gestures from around the world that might equate to giving someone the finger in America. A great idea, and here's what I found. If you know of more, tell us.

The Forearm Jerk (Bras D'Honneur)
A bad idea in: France, southern Europe, the Mideast, the U.S.

You know this one: slap a hand down on the opposite bicep, then raise that arm into a fist. This macho combination of a gigantic erect penis and a threatening fist says, "Fuck off!" or "Up yours!" In France it is called the bras d'honneur, or arm of honor, which I suspect is meant to be sarcastic. Call me intuitive.

The Corna
A bad idea in: Spain, Portugal, the Baltics, Brazil, Colombia

"Rock 'n roll!"
"Hook 'em, Horns!"
"Your wife is a whore!"

Guess which one is the international translation? So even if you're a Texas Longhorn at a Dokken concert in Barcelona, you'd best keep your digits to yourself.

("Eat shit")

A bad idea in: Greece, Pakistan and parts of Africa

An offensive display of an open palm, the moutza recalls the ancient Byzantine practice of thrusting shit in the faces of chained criminals as they were paraded around town. In modern Greece, any outward hand motion is deemed extremely offensive. They go as far as waving goodbye inwardly toward themselves like a beauty pageant queen in order to avoid an ass-whupping.

The Palm-Back V
A bad idea in: The UK, Australia, New Zealand, Italy

Like a peace sign, but backwards, in both execution and meaning. Raise two fingers in a "V" with your palm facing you to say, "up your ass" or "fuck off."
George Bush, Sr. famously gave the sign to Australians in 1992, thinking he was giving the peace sign. The "V" is also considered rude in Italy, especially if you place your nose between the two fingers to resemble a crude vagina... or your vagina between the two fingers to resemble a crude nose.

Donkey Ride
A bad idea in: Saudi Arabia

Not quite as simple as most obscene gestures, but if you are interested in losing your hands, here's how you do it: form an inverted V with your right index finger and thumb, then place them over your extended left index finger to say, "I'll ride you like a donkey." Here's hoping that is not meant in a sexual sense, because donkeys kick. Hard.

A bad idea in: The Middle East, Russia, Greece, Sardinia, Western Africa, Latin America

It might mean "nice job" or "way to go" in America, but in many places abroad, the gesture invites the recipient(s) to "sit on my erect penis," which, believe it or not, many people find insulting. In southern Sardinia, where the gesture is particularly obscene, hitchhiking is discouraged. And in the Middle East, don't try any Fonzie impressions, since the double thumbs-up will unleash a jihad on your ass.


A bad idea in: Chile

Another delight from the Southern Hemisphere. Hold up a palm towards you and slightly curl the fingers to form the shape of a shell. Then say, "Concha de tu madre," which literally means, "Your mother's shell," but figuratively means, "Your mama's dried up, nasty cooch." Try it at a soccer game or protest rally, and let us know what happens.

The Fig
A bad idea in: India, Turkey, Italy

Once a positive gesture wishing luck and fertility to the recipient, the Fig -- a fist with the thumb sticking up between the index and middle finger -- is now the equivalent of a bird in many fun countries like Turkey, where Midnight Express takes place.

Up The Ass
A bad idea in: France

Take your middle finger and thrust it up into the curled up fist of your other hand, and you'll discover yet another way for the French to tell each other, "You take it up the ass," something they seem to say a lot over there. Hopefully they don't really take it up the ass as much as they say it.

Closed Fist
A bad idea in: Pakistan

A single raised, closed fist in Pakistan, like the bras d'honneur in France, means that the sender invites you take a hard phallus up into your rectum. You then have every right to raise both your closed fists and beat that person like a rented mule.

The "OK"
A bad idea in: Brazil, Germany, some areas around the Mediterranean

What is "ok" to Americans is just "o" in some other countries, and that "o" represents an anus, which means you are calling the recipient an asshole. If you're trying to say, "Ok, asshole," then your message works just about anywhere in the world.

The Dog Call
A bad idea in: The Philippines

Know how in America we might signal someone to "come here" by curling an index finger toward ourselves repeatedly? Yeah. Don't do that in the Philippines, where it's a gesture fit only for dogs (who probably aren't wild about it, either) and can get you arrested at best and beaten like a dog at worst.

A bad idea in: India, Pakistan

The next time you're in India or Pakistan, take a fist with the thumb sticking out, then flick the thumbnail off your two front teeth as you say, "Cutta!" You've just told someone, "screw you and your family." Well done. Now run, motherfucker.

A bad idea in: Japan

Japanese don't like Koreans. They call them "animals" by extending four fingers of one hand in another person's face. If I'm Korean, I'm grabbing those fingers with my fingers and bending them backwards until they snap, so that person won't be giving any animals for a while.

A bad idea in: Chile

If you know the "Little Bunny Foo-Foo" song, you can do the tapita. It's the same thing you do when you pick up field mice and bop them on the head: make an O with one hand and tap the top of that O with the other hand. It means "small cover," which doesn't sound all that insulting, but this is Chile, where people disappear for lesser infractions, so you don't want to screw around.

(Info from Ooze.com, LanguageTrainers.co.uk and Wikipedia)


  1. I'm looking at my profile pic and roaring with laughter!

  2. Well that was useful. Some of those I knew, some I didn't. Good thing to know how to offend someone when I need to! ;P

  3. In Ecuador if you are referring to height (as in "little Chris is this tall now" or "my horse is this tall"... you can't use the same hand gesture. For animals you hold your palm down, for humans you hold the hand like a karate chop when making the gesture to represent how tall the person or animal is. I am not sure if this applies to any other countries.

  4. Great list! I'd be interested to see a list in ways the great American middle finger can be delivered, and how these ways mean slightly different things. Thumb-out, thumb-in, two-fisted, two-fisted-sideways (gangsta), etc etc .. then of course there's the 'superfinger' ..

  5. Isn't there the old four finger chin flick? Must be Italian...(Name that movie!)

  6. Wow, well done, my friend! When I suggested this I had no idea how many there were. I'm just going to sit on my hands when I travel from now on.

    This is the one that made me think of it:
    In argentina if you flick your fingers outward from beneath your chin, it means "I don't know." In New York and Italy, though, it means f&ck off. A friend of mine just got back from living in Argentina for a long time and keeps getting in a wee bit o' trouble over that pesky gesture she picked up.

  7. wow, well done, my friend! I had no idea there were so many. I think I'll just keep my hands in my pockets when I travel from now on...

    This is the gesture that made me think of this list:

    A friend of mine just got back from living in Argentina where she picked up a gesture that means "I don't know," down there. You take your fingers and flick them out from beneath your chin. Problematic here and in Italy, where it means "f&ck off." She's having to watch herself pretty carefully now.

  8. Thanks, Cheasty. It was a great idea, but took a little time to research. And this is only the tip of the iceberg; there are tons more.

  9. The backwards "V" sign that is so British has an interesting history. It goes back to the development of the longbow. The longbow was considered to be a WMD in the Middle Ages, for you could take out a lot of an enemy force from a distance. In one of the first recorded uses of the longbow in war, a very small British force about decimated the much larger French army at the battle of Agincourt, made famous by Shakespeare's Henry V and the usually overacted "St. Crispin's Day" speech ("Oh, we few, we happy few, we Band of Brothers..."). The longbow is drawn back using the index and middle fingers. After that embarrassing and costly defeat, the French would cut off those fingers on the right hand of any British prisoner of war. At the end of battles, the British archers took to showing the French that they still had those two digits in a now-classic "up your's" fashion.

    See what you learn when you stay awake in English lit classes?


  10. Thanks for your informative post. My friend Miss Cheastypants sent me over here and it was definitely worth it, not that I have the knowledge to insult a lot more people without needing to say a word :-)

  11. Welcome, Alison. Thanks for stopping by. Come back anytime.

  12. Actually, it should be "Brava," 'cos the last time I looked, I was still a girl.

    You're welcome. Glad to be of service.


  13. Whatever, E. I will ride you like a donkey.

  14. While dining at a local Mexican restaurant, I managed to inadvertently crack up all the waiters. Something about speaking to someone whose native language isn't English makes me use more hand gestures, as if that's really going to make my order more understandable. When I ordered "cheese dip" I put the tips of my fingers and thumbs of both hands together to symbolize (I guess) the bowl the cheese dip comes in. (Or queso, if you will.) The waiters just howled and began talking quite excitedly in Spanish. Thank goodness a sympathetic waitress took pity on me and explained that my gesture meant "I'll take that in the butt, please." Wow. Good tip.

    Like Cheasty, I'm sitting on my hands from now on.

  15. You are such an animal, Cary.


  16. LOVE this list. So many new ways to insult my friends and family. I'm inspired to pick a fight just so I can practice. >: ) I thought swearing in Gaelic was great - this is better.

  17. I know a bunch of American Sign Language dirty words and you have to be careful around deaf people (is that PC to say??) because some very innocent looking gestures mean nasty things in ASL!

    For instance, shaking a straight index finger... like you're telling someone off... means 'penis' in ASL.

  18. In Korea and China, maybe Japan too, the fig is the equivalent of making the thumb and forefinger circle and then poking the other forefinger in and out of the circle in the English speaking world. I got that from a book called Ugly Americans / Ugly Koreans with a warning not to do the "got your nose!" thing to a Korean baby, at least not if the Korean parents or police were watching.

    Also keeorp, I'm pretty sure Crecy came before Agincourt by a solid chunk of years, but your point is just as valid. There's a really fucking amazing book by Bernard Cornwell about that battle called "The Archer's Tale" in the US, "Harlequin" in the UK.

  19. So I'm guessing the "shocker" means the same thing world wide?

  20. Very funny!! Spain and Russian parts are so right. :)

  21. In Chile, a soccer player once thrust his pelvis forward and grabbed his genitals with both hands to insult the public who was jeering at him, installing an obscene gesture that since then carries his name. I wonder if there is something similar elsewhere.

  22. I'm a native greek, and I must say that we don't use the "thumbs up" sign within the context described in the post. Good Job overall, just make sure you correct that factual error.

  23. "Do you bite your thumb at us sir?
    If biting your thumb is an insult in India and Pakistan, they probably got it from the British, who ruled India for 250 years.

    The thumb bite has been an English insult since the Middle Ages. Shakespeare mentions it in Act 1 of Romeo and Juliet, where the Capulets' guards bite their thumbs at the Montagues' guards.

  24. Interesting. Most of these are very rude in the Czech Republic also (Central Europe)

  25. The "OK" just means "OK" in Germany. Nothing rude about it.



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