Cultures and Gestures - The Art of World Building
May 182020
 
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A sampling of gestures from Earth can give world builders ideas on what to leverage or invent; as long as we have a rationale, we can make up new ones or repurpose existing ones. Gestures that are a part of a greeting, for example, will be discussed later in this chapter because they include other elements, but some gestures stand alone. This includes one designed to show displeasure and give offense to the source of that displeasure. In much of the world, this involves raising the middle finger, a gesture that goes back to at least Roman times, with the finger representing a penis and the remaining finger knuckles representing testicles, though modern folks seldom know this.

Some cultures have alternate versions of this, such as two fingers (two penises) raised with the hand facing one way or another, or extending the arm before slapping the opposite hand into the elbow and bending the struck arm upward. Making a fist, with your thumb sticking out between your index and middle fingers, is called the fig and, to some, resembles a woman’s privates. Putting your thumb behind your upper teeth, facing outward, and flicking the thumb is another variant called cutis. The “talk to the hand” gesture, arm extended, palm outward, all fingers spread, is called the moutza.

The “OK” symbol in the U.S., where the index finger and thumb form a circle and the other fingers are straight, means “asshole” in some countries. The thumbs up gesture can mean putting that up your rear instead of everything being okay. The devil horns can represent any animal with two horns but reminds some of a bull and suggests the target person’s wife is having an affair (with the bull, i.e., a more virile man); we can do this with an animal of our invention. Another rude gesture is pointing to your other hand, where all five fingers are spread, indicating that the person you’re doing this to had five potential fathers (a promiscuous mother). Crossing your fingers for luck can be seen as representing a woman’s privates and is the same as calling someone a “c*nt.”

Shaking your head for “no” and nodding for “yes” is not universal and is reversed in some countries. Crossing the arms is standoffish in some countries and arrogant in others; I personally just find it comfortable and wish people would stop reading into it! Punching your fist into the other palm is a threat of violence to some, but our fictional world’s warriors might see it as wishing another warrior a good battle, whether literally or figuratively. Shaking two fists means good luck in Austria but could easily be seen as a threat in others. The foot can be considered very unclean and therefore, showing the bottom to others is highly offensive in some cultures; similarly, not taking shoes off inside is considered rude in others.

Sometimes our location while doing a gesture is an issue. Doing one over a threshold might be good or bad, or while sitting verses standing. A doorway is a transition, so a gesture that normally means peace could be seen as rude, meaning we hope the person’s life changes for the worse. The opposite could be true if their life is unpleasant, in which case we’re wishing them well? Think about what a location means and how we can spin the gesture’s normal meaning. A church is a holy place to convene with gods, so being outside one, or in the doorway, and gesturing for someone inside to come to us could be interpreted as seducing them away from a god.

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