Dictionary of Gestures: Expressive Comportments and Movements in Use Around the World
Gestures convey meaning with a flourish. A vigorous nod of the head, a bold jut of the chin, an enthusiastic thumbs-up: all speak louder than words. Yet the same gesture may have different meanings in different parts of the world. What Americans understand as the “A-OK gesture,” for example, is an obscene insult in the Arab world. This volume is the reference book we didn’t know we needed–an illustrated dictionary of 850 gestures and their meanings around the world. It catalogs voluntary gestures made to communicate openly–as distinct from sign language, dance moves, involuntary “tells,” or secret handshakes–and explains what the gesture conveys in a variety of locations. It is organized by body part, from top to bottom, from head (nodding, shaking, turning) to foot (scraping, kicking, playing footsie).
We learn that “to oscillate the head while gently throwing it back” communicates approval in some countries even though it resembles the headshake of disapproval used in other countries; that “to tap a slightly inflated cheek” constitutes an erotic invitation when accompanied by a wink; that the middle finger pointed in the air signifies approval in South America. We may already know that it is a grave insult in the Middle East and Asia to display the sole of one’s shoe, but perhaps not that motorcyclists sometimes greet each other by raising a foot. Illustrated with clever line drawings and documented with quotations from literature (the author, François Caradec, was a distinguished and prolific historian of literature, culture, and humorous oddities, as well as a novelist and poet), this dictionary offers readers unique lessons in polylingual meaning.