AskDefine | Define gestures

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Plural of gesture


  1. third-person singular of gesture

Extensive Definition

A gesture is a form of non-verbal communication made with a part of the body, used instead of or in combination with verbal communication. The language of gesture allows individuals to express a variety of feelings and thoughts, from contempt and hostility to approval and affection. Most people use gestures and body language in addition to words when they speak. The use of gesture as language by some ethnic groups is more common than in others, and the amount of such gesturing that is considered culturally acceptable varies from one location to the next.

Types of gestures

Gestures play a major role in many aspects of human life. Gesturing is probably a universal, there has been no report of a community that does not gesture. Gestures are a crucial part of everyday conversation such as chatting, describing a route, negotiating prices on a market; they are ubiquitous. Gestures have been documented in the arts such as in Greek vase paintings, Indian Miniatures or European paintings.
Gestures play a central role in religious or spiritual rituals such as the Christian sign of the cross. In Hinduism and Buddhism, a mudra (Sanskrit, literally "seal") is a symbolic gesture made with the hand or fingers. Each mudra has a specific meaning, playing a central role in Hindu and Buddhist iconography. An example is the Vitarka mudra, the gesture of discussion and transmission of Buddhist teaching. It is done by joining the tips of the thumb and the index together, while keeping the other fingers straight.

Hand gestures

Hand gestures, i.e., gestures performed by one or two hands, is the most numerous category of gestures due to the ability of the human hand to acquire a huge number of clearly discernible configurations, the fact of importance for the sign languages. The latter ones are not discussed in this article.

Body gestures

This is moving the body in a certain way when orally communicating.


Mooning is the act of displaying one's bare buttocks by lowering the back side of one's trousers and underpants, usually without exposing the genitals. Mooning is used in some cultures to express protest, scorn, disrespect, or provocation. It can also be done for shock value


Anasyrma or "lifting the skirts" is a gesture traceable to European antiquity. It is used in connection with certain religious rituals, eroticism, and lewd jokes.

The "peacock"

Expresses superiority or domination combined with a certain degree of smug arrogance. Performed by pushing the chest up and out at the front as well as tilting the face slightly upward. This may be accompanied by motions of hooking both thumbs under one's lapels or suspenders even if they are not present.

Head/face gestures

Facial expressions

Facial expressions are a rich language in their own right and will not be discussed in this article. Some facial expressions are byproducts of emotions, while others, such as winking or eye-rolling are akin to gestures.


Rotating the eyes upward may have the following meanings.
  • It may indicate condescension, contempt, boredom, or exasperation. The gesture is often for a rescue from boredom or frustration. It can be interpreted as the equivalent of saying, "I don't like this" or "I think this is really stupid" or "I simply can't believe this."
See also: eye roll test


A nod is a gesture of confirmation in many cultures and negation in some (e.g., in Bulgaria and Sri Lanka).

Head bobble

Head bobble, i.e., repeated alternating tilting of the head to the left and to the right in arcs along the coronal plane, means disapproval in some cultures, e.g., in the East Slavic culture. This same head movement in India means "OK".

Head shaking

Repeated turning of the head side to side in arcs along the transverse plane has a meaning opposite to the nod: negation in many cultures and confirmation in some.

Bent head

A gesture of shame, subduing, or agreement/confirmation. An interpretation depends on the way it being performed and overall body context. Or, can be used as a greeting.

Pointing by chin

A direction may be pointed by chin, e.g., when the arms are doing something else: the head is turned in the corresponding direction and the chin is slightly jerked up and in the pointed direction. This is also used as a greeting in some regions in the U.S., usually among young men.

Greeting by nod

A single nod of the head, (one single cycle in image-pitch) characterizes a greeting gesture.


  • Bulwer, John (1644). "Chirologia: or the Naturall Language of the Hand" (London,1644)
  • Goldin-Meadow, Susan (2003). The resilience of language: What gesture creation in deaf children can tell us about how all children learn language. In the Essays in Developmental Psychologyseries (J. Werker & H. Wellman, Eds.). New York: Psychology Press.
  • Goldin-Meadow, Susan (2003). Hearing gesture: How our hands help us think. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Johns, C. (1982). Sex or Symbol. Erotic Images of Greece and Rome. London: British Museum Publications.
  • Kendon, Adam (ed.) (1981). Nonverbal Communication, Interaction and Gesture: Selections from Semiotica (Vol.41, Approaches to Semiotics). The Hague: Mouton and Co. [Includes as an Introduction by Kendon an extended critical survey of methodological and theoretical issues in the field].
  • Kendon, Adam (1997). Annual Review of Anthropology. 26: 109-128.
  • Kendon, Adam (2000). Gesture in Naples and Gesture in Classical Antiquity. An English translation, with an Introductory Essay and Notes of La mimica degli antichi investigata nel gestire Napoletano ('Gestural expression of the ancients in the light of neapolitan gesturing') by Andrea de Jorio (1832). Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.
  • Kendon, Adam (2004). Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • McNeill, David (1992). Hand and Mind. What Gestures Reveal about Thought. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
  • McNeill, David (2005). Gesture and Thought. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
  • Kita, S. (ed.) (2003). Pointing: Where Language, Culture and Cognition Meet. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, ISBN 0-8058-4014-1.

External links

  • International Society for Gesture Studies(ISGS) is an international scholarly association devoted to the study of human gesture. The ISGS organizes conferences and supports the Journal GESTURE.
  • McNeill Lab Center for Gesture and Speech Research David McNeill's Lab homepage: The Center for Gesture and Speech Research at the University of Chicago studies speech and gesture from a psycholinguistic perspective. The page provides lots of useful information about gesture analysis.
  • The Goldin-Meadow Lab Susan Goldin-Meadow's Lab homepage. The lab is composed of graduate students and researchers pursuing independent topics related to cognition, development, education, linguistics, and various other fields, but interrelated by the lab's main focus - the study of non-verbal communication, specifically gestures.
  • The Nijmegen Gesture Center (NGC) at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics studies the role of gestures in psycholinguistic processing, communication and interaction, acquisition, cognition, and neurocognition.
  • Journal GESTURE is a scholarly Journal that publishes articles reporting original research, as well as survey and review articles, on all aspects of gesture.
  • Publications by Adam Kendon (field data, research techniques and theory of gesture and sign languages)
  • A Nice Gesture Many stories and anecdotes on gestures.
  • A Repertoire of South African Quotable Gestures, Journal of Linguistic Anthropology.
  • Handspeak Sign languages, gestures, body languages, Baby Sign, International Sign, and more. Paid site with limited content for free.
gestures in Arabic: حركات اليد
gestures in German: Geste
gestures in Spanish: Gesto
gestures in French: Gestuelle des doigts et des mains
gestures in Galician: Aceno
gestures in Indonesian: Gerak isyarat
gestures in Italian: Gesto
gestures in Georgian: ჟესტიკულაცია
gestures in Dutch: Gebaar
gestures in Japanese: ジェスチャー
gestures in Polish: Gest
gestures in Portuguese: Gesto
gestures in Russian: Жест
gestures in Simple English: Gesture
gestures in Slovak: Gesto
gestures in Finnish: Elekieli
gestures in Ukrainian: Жест
gestures in Chinese: 手势
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