'Field Guide to Gestures'

New Book Gives Origins Behind Cultural Signs

The "raspberry."

hide captionThe "raspberry."

Quirk Books
The "loser."

hide captionThe "loser."

Quirk Books
The "thumb bite."

hide captionThe "thumb bite."

Quirk Books
Field Guide to Gestures, by Nancy Armstrong and Melissa Wagner.

hide captionField Guide to Gestures, by Nancy Armstrong and Melissa Wagner.

Quirk Books
Available Online

Rolling the eyes, shaking a hand, flipping the bird — if you think you know what these gestures convey, you're probably right.

But what about the origins of the handshake; or the long, cross-cultural tradition of flipping the bird? Not so obvious.

And that's where A Field Guide to Gestures comes in. It's a new book that claims to "identify and interpret virtually every gesture known to man." NPR's Scott Simon, host of Weekend Edition Saturday, talks with one of the authors of the book, Melissa Wagner.

Read excerpts from the book about the origins of some gestures:

Raspberry: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the name raspberry is taken from "raspberry tart," which is Cockney rhyming slang for "fart." Loosely translated to mean "yuck" or "ugh," the raspberry gesture evolved from the basic gesture of sticking out the tongue in order to reject nourishment from our mother's breast in infancy.

Loser: A fairly new invention, the loser gesture dates back to 1994, when Jim Carrey's movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective took theaters by storm. Carrey's character used the "L" on the forehead as his trademark gesture, making sure everyone who didn't measure up knew it.

Thumb Bite: Considered by experts to be the Elizabethan equivalent of the finger gesture, the thumb bite is a gravely insulting gesture.

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