Gestures are motions made by the body which carry meaning. This ranges (at least in America) from a nod of the head meaning “yes” to the raising of the middle finger to offensively tell people to leave you alone. Due to globalization, many American films and videos are spread around the world. This may introduce people from other cultures to things like American gestures. While many gestures are thought to be universal, many others are not. Here is a list of common American gestures. Do they exist in your culture?

Thumbs up/ Thumbs down

Raising your thumb (or big finger) in the air is a positive gesture which means good, great, or cool  depending on the context. If a young student answers correctly, the teacher may give them a thumbs up and say “Good job!”. 

Conversely, putting your thumb towards the ground is a negative gesture which means I don’t like it.

Fingers crossed

Crossing your middle finger over your pointer finger is another positive gesture which means hopefully it goes well, or good luck. If your friend tells you that they have a good feeling about having bought a lottery ticket, you can use this gesture to wish them luck. It is so common that saying “fingers crossed” without doing the motion is another way of saying “good luck”. 

Air quotes 

Using both of your hands with your pointer finger and middle finger stretched and then bending them at the same time is used as “air quotes”. If you are telling a story and want to say what another person said you can use this gesture. More often, though, it is used sarcastically to express that you think what the other person said was untruthful. For example, using this gesture when you say “He said (gesture) he was at the store buying milk when I called (gesture), but he was really with Kate.” 


  • What are some common gestures where you live? What do they mean?
  • When do you use gestures the most? Explain.
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