English Learner Article 80 British gestures

Summary:List of UK gestures, with meanings of gestures used in the United Kingdom and how to make them.

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The British are hardly famous for using their body much during communication, so you might be surprised that this article has well over 50 gestures that British people use – and that’s without the rude ones! Many of the gestures are borrowed from other places and/ or widely used in other countries, but none of them are universal and there are a few which are very rare outside the UK. They are explained below in approximate order of how tricky they can be for foreigners.

Perhaps the most troublesome British gestures are insulting ones like “the V sign” and “the middle finger”. Because those kinds of gestures are difficult to explain without offending some people, they have been put into another article called “Offensive, insulting and aggressive gestures in the UK”. Another article called “British body language” on the more general topics of UK-style handshakes, physical displays of affection, bodily contact, proximity etc will also be available from September 2016.

All explanations below are for right-handed people, but there is no taboo against using the left hand in Britain, so all of them can be done with that hand instead without changing the meaning. “Right” and “Left” below always mean for the person doing the gesture (not for the person viewing it).


UK gestures for two

In the UK, two fingers up in a V shape with the back of your hand towards the other person (“the V sign”) is almost as bad an insult as the middle finger. You therefore have to be very careful how you gesture when you ask for “two stamps” in the UK. The most common way to show the number two is simply to turn your hand around so that your palm is facing the other person (“the peace sign”). You can also stop yourself from giving the V sign by bringing your two fingers together (without needing to turn your hand around). There is nothing offensive about using other fingers, say a thumb and index finger or the index fingers of both hands, but these are not common and it might take the other person a while to work out that you mean “two”.


Tapping your nose gesture/ Need to know gesture

Point up towards the sky with your right index finger and then touch the right side of your nose so that almost all of your index finger is touching it, from the top to the bottom of your nose. Tap the side of your nose around three times. This means that I’m not going to tell you something. The reason for touching the nose for this meaning is presumably the use of the word “nose” in the expressions “Don’t be nosy” and “Don’t poke your nose into other people’s business”. Those phrases are usually too strong to actually say with this gesture, but you can say sentences like “Never you mind” and “It’s strictly need to know” while you are tapping the side of your nose.


Touching wood gesture/ Knocking on wood gesture

Hold your hand in a fist, but perhaps with the middle knuckle a little further out than the other fingers. Knock your knuckle(s) on something wooden such as a table two or three times. This is done for good luck, or more specifically for taking away the bad luck that you might have attracted by suggesting that something great that could happen, as in “I really think that I will pass the exam this time, touch wood!” Note that it must be wood that you knock on, not metal etc. However, some people do knock themselves on their forehead as a kind of joke. Perhaps because most people don’t actually believe the superstition behind this gesture, it is also possible to say “… touch wood!” with this meaning without necessarily actually doing the action.


Air quotes gesture

Make peace signs on both sides of your head with the middle fingers and index fingers of both hands in V shapes. Make sure that you have your palms facing towards the other person so you are not making rude V signs. Bend all four fingers down towards your palm and then point them almost straight up again about four times, finishing with curved fingers. This gesture is supposed to make the shape of quotation marks (“”). The meaning is the same as the ironic use of quotation marks in English writing, in phrases like “As everyone knows, he’s a ‘genius’”, meaning he’s not a genius at all and/ or only he thinks he is a genius. So if you say “It’s interesting” with no gesture is could really genuinely mean interesting, but if you make the air quotes gesture during the word “interesting” it would mean something like “It’s weird”.


Neck cutting/ Slitting your neck gestures

There are two neck cutting gestures with very different meanings. The softer and more common one is done with your whole hand. With your elbow bent and held in front of your stomach, hold your right hand at the level of your neck with all of the fingers pointing towards it and your palm down. Twist your wrist clockwise and anticlockwise about three times, without changing the position of your arm. Your hand should make a cutting motion as it twists in front of your neck. This gesture means “Stop speaking” and/ or “Time’s up”. It is most often used by someone at the back of the presentation room to tell the presenter that they have to bring their presentation to a close. It can also be used with the meaning of “Don’t say that”, e.g. to tell someone else in your negotiating team not to give away that info to the other side.

The other neck cutting gesture consists of your right index finger being drawn slowly from the left of your neck to the right side while touching the skin, making it really look like the horror movie version of cutting someone’s neck. Unsurprisingly, this gesture means “I will kill you (later)”, although it is usually used at least half jokingly. For example, I used to make this gesture towards my sisters at the dinner table when they told my parents things like “Today, I saw Alex throwing stones at…”to mean “I’ll get you later”.


Polishing your fingernails gesture

Blow hot air once or twice on the fingernails of your right hand as if you were polishing some glasses or a glass, perhaps making a gentle “ha ha” noise. Polish those fingernails on your shirt, over the left side of your chest. This gesture is used to congratulate yourself, meaning something like “Didn’t I do well?” or “I’m quite pleased with myself”. Like those phrases, this gesture can seem a bit arrogant, and so usually needs to be done in an ironic, jokey, over-the-top way. 


Tapping your head gestures

Tapping your head has two very different meanings with slightly different gestures, so you need to be careful when attempting either. If you touch your right temple with your right index finger and tap the side of your head four or five times, this means “You are crazy”. However, if you move that finger further forward so that it is tapping the right side of your forehead above your right eyebrow, it only means “Make sure that you remember”/ “Don’t forget”. To make the distinction clearer, it is best to make sure that the “crazy” gesture has the finger horizontal but the “remember” one is done with the index finger much more vertical. You should also ensure that the “remember” taps are slower and/ or gentler than the “crazy” taps.


Twisting your finger in front of you gestures

Put your right index finger horizontally in front of your belly button, pointing left. Move your finger in a circle at right angles to your body, starting by going up and away from your body and then coming back down and towards your body. This has several similar meanings with slightly different gestures. If you make just one circle, it usually means “One more time”, e.g. when giving instructions on taking photos or recording something. If you start making circles slowly and get quicker and quicker, it means “Please speed up”, maybe in order to finish in time. Turning a few times without changing the speed means “Please carry on/ Please don’t stop”, for example asking you to extend your Q&A stage because the next presenter hasn’t arrived yet (and therefore the opposite meaning to the neck cutting gesture above).


Crossing your fingers gestures

Cross the right middle finger over the index finger of your right hand and bring the end of that middle finger as far down as you can. This should make a kind of knot with those two fingers, with the index finger straight and the middle finger twisted around it. This gesture has an asking for good luck meaning, similar to knocking on wood (see above). However, crossing your fingers often has the more positive meaning of wishing for something good, going with phrases like “I really hope it comes on time (, fingers crossed)” and “They would be complete idiots not to give you the job. (I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you).”

In movies you might also see people secretly crossing their fingers, perhaps behind their back. This could be because you don’t want the other person to know that what you are saying is rather optimistic (when saying “It should be finished by the end of today”). However, particularly with children it could also be because crossing your fingers is supposed to take away the sin from lying. 


Cross your heart gesture

With your right index finger, draw a vertical and then a horizontal line over the left side of your chest, as if you are drawing a (Christian) cross over your heart. This like a Catholic or Orthodox believer making a cross over their heart for religious reasons, but isn’t used that way in the Protestant churches that are most common in the UK. Instead, it just means “I promise (that I will do it/ that what I said is true)”, sometimes with the accompanying words “Cross my heart” or perhaps even the longer version “Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye”.


Patting yourself on the back gesture

Reach your right hand around the front of your neck towards your left shoulder and pat yourself there about three times. This has a similar congratulating yourself meaning to the polishing your fingernails gesture above. However, patting yourself on the back is perhaps less self-congratulatory, as it is often accompanied by the phrase “I think we can all pat ourselves on the back for a job well done”. It therefore doesn’t always need to be used in such an ironic way as the polishing your fingernails gesture.


Come here gestures and go away gestures

The gestures for “come here” and “go away” vary a lot from country to country, especially the direction that the palm faces when you make the gesture. In the UK “go away” is with the palm of the right hand facing left and a little down, while “come here” is with your palm facing you and the four fingers pointing up. In both gestures all four fingers are moved backwards and forwards a few times without moving the rest of the hand (much). For “go away” the fingers move slowly towards you and then flick very quickly out, whereas for “come here” they move at a regular, fairly slow speed. You can also indicate “go away” and “come here” with your whole arm, but this is only usual when the other person is far away and/ or you want to show your impatience.

Pointing to the sky with just your right index finger and curling it towards yourself three or four times also means “come here” but it usually has the more specific meaning of “You are in big trouble. Please come here to receive your telling off/ Please come here to receive your punishment for what you have done”. It therefore unsuitable in most situations.

Indicating “come here” with two hands (and therefore eight fingers) can mean “Come here everyone”, for example when gathering together all the football players for a team talk. However, it also has the more aggressive meaning of “Bring it on”, meaning “Come on then, criticise me as much as you like/ try to defeat my argument if you can” or even “Come on over here if you think you’re hard enough, (I’m not scared of a punch from you)”.


Signing in the air gesture

Put your right hand in the air with your thumb and first two fingers touching as if you are holding a pen, then move your hand exactly as if you were quickly signing your name. This gesture is used by diners in a restaurant to mean “Can I have the bill, please?”, presumably because it looks like signing your name on the credit card payment slip. This is particularly useful in the UK, because the British generally don’t like raising their voice to get the attention of the waiter.


Whoosh gesture

Put your open hand in front of you and move it over the top of your head, with about five centimetres between your head and palm. This is related to the idiom “It went over my head”, meaning it was too difficult for me to understand. It is often aimed at other people, for example to show that the person who you are speaking to just missed a joke and so took what you said seriously, but it’s quite patronising or even aggressive, and so should only be used with care.


Bowing in the UK

The only time most British people have bowed is probably at the end of the school performance such as acting in a play or playing in a concert. Bowing at other times is therefore usually an ironic comment on the contrast between those kinds of situations and what you are doing now. For example, if you get what seems like too much applause after a presentation and are embarrassed by it (British people often being embarrassed by praise), you can bow to mean “Really, guys? Don’t you think that’s a bit too much? It wasn’t Beethoven’s Fifth!” You can also do the same thing if you have failed at something or only managed to do something ridiculously short and/ or easy.


Money gesture

Hold out your right hand with the palm up and tip of your thumb touching the tips of your first two fingers. Move the thumb and fingers so that they rub against each other, as if you are testing the quality of some material. This means “money” as in “I’ll need some cash if you want me to do that”, “Where’s the cash that you said you’d give me?”, “How can you ask why I did it? Obviously it was for the money”.


Gestures for “Hold on”

Unlike in Greece, there is nothing offensive about holding up one or two open palms towards someone in the UK, and so this gesture could theoretically be used to mean “Wait” or “Stop”. However, like those direct phrases, the open palm gesture is too strong for most situations. Instead, it is usually better to say “Just a moment/ minute/ second/ sec’/ mo’” while you hold up your right index finger to show the “one” meaning of the “a” in that phrase. A palm towards someone tends to be saved for the other meaning of “Hold on”, which is strongly disagreeing, as in “Hold on, you can’t say that” and “Hold on, that is going too far”.


Forehead wiping gesture

Pull the back of your open right hand across your forehead from left to right and then flip the fingers away from you as if you are wiping sweat from your forehead and then getting rid of that sweat. This gesture means “What a relief”/ “That’s a relief” as in “My presentation is cancelled? What a relief!” The gesture is often accompanied by the noise “Phew!”


Dusting off your hands gesture

Slap your palms against each other as you move them up and down, as if you are trying to get some chalk dust or flour off them. This gesture is related to the English idiom “done and dusted” and means something is completely finished. It is often a sign of satisfaction, almost like patting yourself on the back. However, it can also mean “I wash my hands of this”, meaning that you want nothing more to do with something or that you give up. 


So-so gesture

Put your right hand in front of your stomach with the palm facing down and twist your wrist clockwise and anticlockwise to make a screwing motion with your hand (without moving your arm up and down or side to side). This usually means “so-so”, as in “How was your weekend?” “So-so. It poured with rain so we spent the whole time in the hotel”. It can also sometimes be used for “about/ approximately/ around/ more or less”, as in “So, you need 200 chairs”, “Yes, more or less”.


Finger wagging gestures

There are two finger wagging gestures used in the United Kingdom – side to side to stop people doing something, and back and forth to tell them what to do.

For the prohibition gesture, point up just the index finger of your right hand with your palm facing the other person. Twist your wrist and hand a little so that the top of the finger moves left and right, like windscreen wipers or a metronome. Do this fairly quickly about four times, perhaps making a “tut tut tut” sound by clicking your tongue as you do so. This gesture means that the other person is doing or did something that they shouldn’t have done. This is most commonly used with kids to tell them that they have been naughty, so adults can react quite negatively to receiving this gesture. However, it can be used in jokey way with friends, for example if they got drunk and kissed their boss again last night.

The telling people what to do gesture should be used with even more care, as it is generally used with strong language like “You should have…” and “I’ve told you a million times that you have to…” that is most common with kids. British people rarely use this kind of language or this gesture in business, with even bosses famously preferring to be much more indirect. To make the gesture, start with just your index finger up and your hand sideways. Move the top of your finger slightly towards and then away from the person you are speaking to, perhaps in time with the words you use, e.g. five times for “YOU… MUST… NOT… DO… IT!”


Clicking your fingers gestures

Make a clicking noise with your middle finger and thumb, as a musician might. This has two meanings. It is often used to mean that you forgot to do something or to say something obvious (“Damn, I knew I’d forgotten something”, etc), usually with your hand moving right to left across the front of your chest as you click your fingers.

If you click your fingers without moving your hand sideways, this usually means that something is quick and/ or easy, as in “No problem. I can do it just like that/ It was a snap”.


Praying gestures

There are two kinds of praying to god gestures with quite different meanings. For one, put your palms against each other with your fingers facing up, like a typical Christian picture or sculpture of a saint praying. This usually means “I beg you” as in “Please don’t leave the party while my ex is still here, I beg you!”. It can also mean “I really I really hope so”, similar to crossing your fingers.

The second gesture is less obviously praying, but almost certainly comes from that. Tuck your elbow into the side of your body and put both hands out in front of you and slightly to the side, with your open palms up. Move the hands down about ten centimetres as you look up to heaven and maybe roll your eyes. This means “Dear Lord, why me?”, for example if you are cursing your luck at supporting or managing a particular football team. It can also have the more general meaning of “Oh my god!”


Cracking your knuckles gestures

Put the fingers of both hands between each other (= interlacing your fingers) so that you end up with just one big palm made up of both hands. Point those palms towards your partner with your arms completely straight, stretching your arms and hands as far towards the other person as possible, as you might do while yawning. For some people the joints in your fingers will make a loud cracking sound when you do this, but the meaning doesn’t change if it is done silently. Many people literally do this before starting some physical work, and it generally means “Right, let’s get down to work”. However, some people also use it to get their fists ready to punch someone with, so it could also mean “If you say one more thing about my sister, I’m going to kill you”. If you crack your individual knuckles by squeezing them one by one with your hand, it is more likely to have the aggressive meaning, with the actual sound more obligatory in this case.


Rolling up your sleeves gesture

In the same way as someone might really do before some physical work such as the gardening, you can mime rolling up your shirt sleeves as far your elbows to mean that you are really getting down to business.


Face palm gesture

Hold your open hand in front of you with your palm up and then bend your elbow until the hand finishes up touching your forehead, preferably with an audible slapping sound. This means “what an obviously stupid thing to say/ do”. This is often aimed at yourself (as in “I can’t believe I just did that”) but sometimes at other people (as in “You idiot. What did you say that to her for?”) It is also sometimes used when you realise that you have forgotten something, e.g. to show your partner that you need to go back to the house to get something before you also get in the car.


Shooting yourself in the side of your head gesture

Make a gun shape with your right hand by putting out your first two fingers and thumb and folding your last two fingers, with the index finger and middle finger horizontal and touching each other and the thumb pointing straight up. Put the “gun” against your right temple and mime shooting yourself by bringing down the hammer (the thumb), perhaps making a shooting sound with your mouth. You can also show the kickback of the gun by taking it a little away from your temple during the shooting noise. This gesture obviously means that you wish you could kill yourself. This is sometimes because of some bad news (after hearing “Did you hear that your ex is going to be the new CEO?” etc) but also due to complete embarrassment (after hearing what you did drunk last night etc), similar to a face palm gesture.


Time out gesture

This gesture is often used in American sport and so is more common in the US, but has such a useful and specific meaning that I also tend to use it quite a lot. Make a letter T shape with two open hands, with the right hand vertical with the palm facing left and the left hand on top of it with the palm facing down. As in sport, this means “take a break”, usually specifically “Okay guys, there’s no point arguing about this any longer. Let’s cool down and come back to it later”.

Despite the name, this gesture doesn’t have anything to do with running out of time – see below for the watch-related gestures that do.


Thumbs down gesture

Point one hand towards the other person with your fingers folded in and just your thumb out, with your hand twisted round so that your thumb is pointing at the floor. This looks like the opposite of the thumbs up gesture, but the meanings differ more than you might think. Thumbs down can mean “bad”, but it more usually means that I’m rejecting something. For example, if I go into a bar to check it out while my friends wait outside, a thumbs down probably means that it isn’t suitable for us or that our other friends aren’t waiting there, rather than it is actually a bad place.

Thumbs down can also mean that I’ve been rejected. For example, if I give the thumbs down signal to my friends in the office after a job interview, it means that I feel I did badly and almost certainly won’t get the position.


Running out of time gestures

There are two gestures about running out of time, both involving a (real or imaginary) watch. Tapping your watch (or the place on your wrist where a watch would be) is quite strong and usually means that you are already late. A more subtle gesture is to look quite long and hard at your wrist, which is also suitable when you are short of time.


Thumbs up

Outside of the few countries where it is an offensive gesture, the thumbs up for OK sign has become almost universally understood worldwide. It is fairly commonly used in the UK, but there can still seem to be something American about using it. For example, two thumbs tends to be accompanied by “Great” or “Good job” in an over-the-top voice, perhaps with a bad American accent, perhaps because “Not bad” seems more British.

A thumbs up sign is also used for hitchhiking.


Hands up gesture

Bring both arms up with your palms facing the other person, and then usually bring them straight back down again. This clearly comes from the normal gesture for surrender in war situations, and it is sometimes used for “I give up” when playing chess, trying to convince someone, etc. It is also sometimes used with a more sarcastic meaning of “I give up trying to explain (you are obviously not listening properly)”/ “I despair with you, I really do!”


Pat on the head gesture

It’s quite common to pat a small child on the head with your right palm three or four times to comfort them, for example while saying “Never mind” if they lost a game. Perhaps because of this use with small children, with adults a pat on the head is sarcastic or even insulting, maybe going with “Oh you poor thing, you” with a suitably ironic tone of voice. As this combined with actual physical contact could lead to a very aggressive reaction, in this case we often just mime patting on the head, in the air or on your own head. 


Fists on hips gesture

Putting your hands on your hips with your elbows out can sometimes just be a comfortable way to stand, but sometimes shows annoyance. Putting your closed fists on your hips only has the annoyance meaning, perhaps emphasised by putting your fists on your hips quite aggressively, frowning, breathing out through your nostrils, or even your face turning red.


Air slicing gestures

Although you can use a strong head shaking gesture to strongly reject something, it is much more common to bring an open hand across the front of your body, palm down, moving from left to right.  This means “I completely reject your idea” or more simply “No way”, presumably because the hand is cutting off all further discussion. It is therefore very strong.

You can also do the gesture with two hands at the same time, with both hands moving in opposite directions (left to right with your right hand and right to left with your left hand, starting with your arms crossed over each other palms down and finishing with both arms pointing forwards). This can have the “No way” meaning, but often has the much less aggressive meaning of “Please stop”. For example, if two colleagues are arguing and you think that the conversation isn’t going anywhere, you can make this gesture.


Be quiet gestures

To make the more colourful “be quiet” gesture, pinch your thumb and index finger together and touch the left corner of your mouth with the tip of your thumb and finger. Pull them all the way across your mouth to the right corner, touching your lips all the way, as if you were zipping something shut. This is a pretty strong gesture meaning “Shut up”.

A milder gesture for “Be quiet” is putting your right index finger vertically in front of your mouth under your nose, perhaps saying “Shhhh”. This can be used to ask someone to not speak so loudly, as well as being a more polite way to ask them to stop speaking completely. Also see the calm down gesture below for a more polite way to ask people to keep the volume down.


Raised eyebrows gestures

In common with many countries, raising your eyebrows can be used as an informal way of greeting someone in the UK, for example when they enter a meeting late when you are halfway through saying something.

We also naturally raise our eyebrows when surprised. A more conscious version of this is raising just one eyebrow to mean “Really?” as in “Really? Tell me more”, or “Do you really expect me to believe that?”


Massaging your forehead gesture

Screw up your face in a frown. Put your right hand in front of your forehead with your palm towards you. Touch the right side of your forehead with your thumb and the left side of your forehead with your fingers. Massage your head as if you are thinking deeply, are troubled or have a headache. This obviously means “What can I do?”, often aimed at the other person as in “What can I do with you? (I can’t believe you have messed this up again)” or “You’ve really put me in a difficult position”, but sometimes also at yourself as in “I can’t believe I did that”, similar to the face palm gesture.


Kissing your fingertips gesture

Perhaps due to the lack of emphasis traditionally put on food in UK life, there is famously no standard British way of saying “Bon appetit” before a meal. In the same way, the only widely understood gesture for “delicious” is a completely borrowed one. Hold your right hand in a kind of open fist, with the tip of your thumb touching the tips of your fingers to make sort of a tube shape. Kiss the fingernails of your thumb and a finger or two with a loud “Mwah” sound, and then open your hand as you pull it away from your mouth, as if it is exploding. 


A-OK gesture

Make a circle gesture for the other person to see from your thumb and index finger of your right hand, with all the other three fingers pointing up but slightly curved and not touching each other. This basically means “Okay”. The A-OK sign is slightly different in meaning from thumbs up, because it means “No problem”/ “It’s fixed now”/ “Okay, please go ahead”, rather than “That’s good”/ “Good job”, etc.


Emphasising gestures

Banging on the table is too forceful for most normal situations when you want to emphasise something, and can even remind people of Hitler. However, you can bang your right fist down on your left palm in a similar way for “RIGHT, let’s get started, shall we?” and “This is SO important for us”. Even this is too much for more than one word, so for longer sentences with lots of emphasis people sometimes beat out the time with an open right hand, with the palm facing left. Even this should not be overused, and although you may come across British university professors who emphasise almost everything in this way, it obviously loses all impact and can become annoying if you use it too much. 


Calm down gesture

Put out both hands palms down at about hip height, about 25 centimetres in front of you. Move the hands slowly up and down about five or ten centimetres. This means “calm down”, as in “don’t get angry”, and also “slow down” or “Please keep the volume down”. Although it can depend on how you do it, the calm down gesture is usually more polite than a finger in front of your lips if you want to ask someone to be quiet.  


British-style nodding

In the UK, to mean “Yes” people usually nod their head back and forth and up and down around three times, at medium speed. It also has related meanings like “I agree”. Nodding more slowly can mean “Well, you might have a point” or “I’m considering it” rather than actually “I agree”. Nodding more quickly can mean strong agreement, or it might mean “Yes, I already know that, please move on”. One very large and forceful nod usually means that I strongly agree.


Shaking your head gestures

The most common way of saying “No” in English is to twist your neck so that your head turns from side to side. This is usually done about three times fairly slowly, but if it is done really slowly while looking down it has the stronger meaning of “I can’t believe you said that/ did that”, similar to a face palm or putting up your hands in a surrender posture. Shaking your head can be made more forceful by pausing at the end of each nod (at the extreme left and right of the movement), matching the timing of “No! (pause) No! (pause) No!”


Pointing UK-style

As in most countries, pointing at someone with just your index finger is rude in the UK, so you should usually use an open hand with the palm up and all four fingers pointing towards the person. You can usually point at objects with an index finger with no problem at all (e.g. when saying “The toilet is at the end of the corridor over there”), but an open hand is more common for polite offers like “Please take a seat”. 

If someone is behind or next to you it is also possible to point at them with your thumb, but this is very casual (for example, while saying “You need these two guys, they’ll sort you out”) or rude (with “Don’t ask me, ask this idiot”, etc).

An even less common way of pointing at someone is spinning your arm around several times and then pointing at them, often with a similarly long and dramatic “Heeeeeeere’s (name)”. This is only seriously used in showbiz (if even then), so in normal life it has a jokey or ironic meaning, for example because the same person comes every day so a big lead up is amusingly unsuitable.


I/ Me gesture

There are several ways of indicating yourself in English, which all entail pointing to your chest in different ways. The best two are pointing at your chest with the index finger or all four fingers of one hand. Holding your heart with one hand usually means “I’m touched (by your kind gesture” and so can seem too emotional just for “I/ me/ my”. Pointing at your chest with your thumb is too macho for most situations, with two thumbs being even worse.


British drinking gestures

The different British gestures for drinking could well reinforce foreign people’s stereotypes of my country! The first is with your open left hand held flat with your palm facing up, and your right hand above it with your thumb and first two fingers touching and your little finger pointing out. This is the gesture for tea, as you are pretending that your left hand is holding the saucer and the right hand is holding the handle of a traditional tea cup (despite a mug with no saucer being much more common in modern life).

The other gestures for drinking, e.g. with your thumb towards your mouth or a curved hand holding an invisible bottle or cup, usually mean alcoholic drinks, often accompanied by sentences like “Fancy a quick pint?” and “The same again?” Particularly if you tip your head from side to side, the thumb towards your mouth gesture can also mean “drunk”, as in “Don’t worry about him. He’s had a few too many to drink”.


Phone me gesture

Make a fist of your right hand then put just your thumb and little finger up. Put your hand on the right side of your head near your cheek, with the thumb in the middle of your ear and your little finger near your mouth. This obviously represents a telephone, usually to mean “Phone me” or sometimes “(As I said,) I’ll phone you”.

Copyright © 2016

Written by Alex Case for UsingEnglish.com