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Symbolic Gestures


slaytonf
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Was watching a movie the other day.  Don't remember what it was.  A man did something with his hands.  I thought, I've never seen anyone do that.  What did it mean?  Went to the web, the font of all information.  But there's not much there.  It's all the same set of common ones explained.

 

The gesture is this:  Someone licks one of their thumbs, wipes it on the opposing palm, then smacks the palm with their fist.  From the context it suggests confidence, or a wish for good luck, or an expression of conviction.  Does anyone know?

 

What about other gestures you see in movies that aren't in common use today?

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I believe that the meaning depends on context.

 

The action is a: "stamp." It is imitation for licking a stamp and placing it. The striking of palm with fist is emphasis to ensure stamp is well-fixed. Paper stamps for identifying goods were in use for great length of time before postage stamps. 

 

A person may by this gesture stamp an animal such as a white stallion, a sleeping tiger, the first robin seen in spring or many other things depending on region and heritage. To so stamp an animal makes it yours in spirit. 

 

A person is to do this and then make a wish when they see a one-eyed cat, a lame foal or other such thing.

 

I thought to look in The James T. Callow Folklore Archive. It is available at:

http://research.udmercy.edu/find/special_collections/digital/cfa/index.php?field=boggsNum&term=P881.22

It is the second item on the page. It is identified as: "Good Luck Gesture" and references seeing first robin of spring but does not reference animal then belonging to you.

 

The licking of thumb and pressing it into the palm is sign language for: "stamp." I do not know of sign language meaning for fist in the palm.

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In a similar vein, I find it intersting how word usage has changed over the years. One of the most obvious ones is the way meaning "gay" has changed--though Cary Grant used it in it's current meaning in the late 30's in "Bringing Up Baby." If you're not familiar with the movie, he's being questioned as to why he's wearing a woman's frilly bathrobe (Katharine Hepburn stole his clothes while he was in the shower) and he says "Ive just gone gay all of a sudden!" But usually when a person uses it, they just mean happy.

 

I watched Spitfire (not quite as bad as advertised, BTW) this morning and they used another phrase that has changed--"making love to" a person.  That one used make me go "Wait. What?" when I first started watching classic movies. From context I have deduced (I'm bright that way) that in the 30's it simply meant flirting or maybe making a pass at someone.

 

 

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The gesture is this:  Someone licks one of their thumbs, wipes it on the opposing palm, then smacks the palm with their fist.  From the context it suggests confidence, or a wish for good luck, or an expression of conviction.  Does anyone know?

 

If I'm remembering right, I think this action was shown on "I Love Lucy".  It's from the episode "The Freezer", and Lucy is in a butcher shop trying to get rid of all the extra meat she'd bought, on the sly (the meat is in a baby carriage).  Lucy pulls aside some women one by one and tells them that her meat is cheaper than what they can get with the butcher, and she punctuates each point by licking her thumb and slapping her hand.  Toward the end she makes that movement faster and faster, which comes across as more and more comic, and the audience laughs.  She's dressed down and speaks with an exaggerated New York accent ("Tell ya what I'm gonna do!"), so maybe the gesture is supposed to show that she's "slick"...

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