Earlier this week, a Twitter user turned to the masses in the hope of learning the meanings behind four common gestures she had often seen in Western cartoons. While many, if not all, of these may be instantly recognizable to our readers, in Japan they are seldom seen and for that reason look understandably odd.

We’ve already examined some Japanese hand gestures; now let’s see how the other half lives as Japanese Twitter users try to unravel the meanings behind licking our fingers and touching someone or “crab-like movement and bending fingers“.

▼ “Gestures that I often see in overseas animation but don’t know the meaning. I want someone to teach me, especially numbers 1 and 2.”

First, we have “air quotes” or as @twokoG describes it: “some kind of crab-like movement and bending fingers.” This is perhaps made a little more confusing by the common cartoon habit of drawing people with four fingers, but followers were quick to explain.

▼ “① is the [“” (double colon)]. It’s a sign to use when you say something really ironic.”

▼ “① is quotation marks, I think that what is said is meant to be in quotation marks. In English when words are enclosed in quotation marks it’s like using the phrase ‘so-called…’ Around the world I think it has different nuances.”

Since Japanese tends to use corner brackets 「like these」to write quotations it’s easy to understand the basic use of our quotation marks. However, the similarities end there and a lot of confusion can result thanks to the subtle nuances of the “double colon,” as one responder called it.

▼ “An example of the wrong way to use them:”

I don’t know the proper name of number 2 but @towokoG explains it as “putting saliva on your finger and then touching the shoulder. This one I don’t get the most. I only ever see Ferb do this.”

Other Twitter users were equally confused by this one.

▼ “② is like some kind of charm. Maybe to manipulate someone? Or to protect them?”

▼ “② is “You’ve got burned” meaning like ‘You’re a fool.'”

I was actually convinced by that explanation for a moment, but then thinking about it. If you got burned, why would you be hot?

▼ “② is like “You’re hot!!!” on in English an “On fire!!!” kind of comment.”

▼ “Oh, indeed. But why spit?”

“Why spit?” indeed… Obviously the spit provides the reason to make the “pssss” sound that accompanies the gesture. I have licked my finger before attempting to touch a hot pot or pan in the past. However, since a thin layer of saliva logically provides very little defense against scalding hot metal, I’m not sure if I was inspired by the gesture or the other way around.

As she mentioned in her tweet @towokoG kind of got the gist of number 3 saying “point fingers at your own eyes and then towards the other person. Perhaps it’s like I’m watching you?”

▼ “③ means ‘I’m watching’ or ‘watch your back.'”

I never considered this gesture to mean “remember”, but I guess it’s possible. Also this move would have a lot of variations depending on the hand movements and situations like “look at me” in reverse of “I see something over there” if pointing off to the side.

Number 4 is crossing your fingers behind your back, which @towokoG correctly assumes means you are lying about whatever you are saying at that moment. However, interestingly some Twitter users in Japan seemed to connect this move to Christianity, which had never occurred to me before.

▼ “④ is a gesture to pray for divine protection of God by making a cross with your fingers. It means good luck if you’ve done it visibly to a person. But if you hide it behind your back it means ‘God forgive me. I’ve got a little lie.'”

▼ “Number 4’s crossed fingers come from Christianity and when unseen by the other person means ‘from now I will lie.’ In addition crossing your legs is also acceptable.”

Since crossed fingers don’t really resemble a crucifix, it didn’t seem likely to me that the two were connected at first. Also, a quick glance at Wikipedia seemed to suggest that although the move was heavily used by Christians, its use may have predated the religion altogether. Nevertheless there is a strong connection.

And so, @towokoG and followers could walk away from this Twitter exchange with a wealth of knowledge about western countries’ body language. I on the other hand somehow feel like I now know less about them having come along for the ride. Funny how that works.

Do you have a western, or even Japanese, gesture that you’re unsure of? Post it in the comments section below for some helpful reader to explain, because I sure ain’t going to. My head hurts now.

Source: Twitter/@twowokoG via Twinavi (Japanese)