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Finger body language


Techniques > Use of body language > Parts-of-the-body language > Finger body language

Pointer | Club | Prod | Plate | Cup | Claw | Drumming | Sucking | Rudeness | Thumb | See also


Fingers are very flexible and allow for subtle gestures.


A pointing finger indicates direction ('It's over there'). For a long distance, the finger may be pointed diagonally upwards, as if firing an arrow. The index finger is usually used, though the middle finger or even all fingers may be used.

The thumb may be used to pointer to something being as it is jerked over the shoulder.

Pointing at people is like using the prod (see below) and is often considered to be rude and threatening.

People who are angry tend to point more, including at themselves (when they feel hurt or insulted) and at those who they feel are to blame.

Pointing, especially at other people, can be particularly rude in a number of cultures.

In some cultures the thumb is a phallic symbol and giving a 'thumbs up' signal says 'I want to have sex with you.' or may just be a rude insult. This can cause a lot of confusion between people from the Orient and the Occident.


The wagging finger of admonition beats up and down as if striking the culprit. This can be with a stable hand and just a finger way. It may also be done with the whole arm, giving an exaggerated striking movement.

A more polite version points downwards as it beats out an important point, perhaps tapping on something like a table.

The forefinger held up and stationary means 'wait' (perhaps as a threat of being used as a club otherwise).


The finger prod can act like a stiletto knife, stabbing forward at the other person. This is usually the index finger, although the middle finger is sometimes used. This is often very threatening and felt as a personal attack.

The prod may also be used to prod downwards at an imaginary item in front. This is less threatening than pointing directly at the person.

The prod can also be made less threatening by bringing several fingers together and bending the fingers. A disguised form of this is the finger-and-thumb pinch, where an imaginary idea is delicately held and offered forward.


Fingers extended and closed join with the palm to form a plate. The plate holds symbolic things, such as ideas, often gently. The plate may be proffered forwards, offering the held item to others. For large things both hands may be held together.

Held under the chin, it presents the face as an object to be admired and is often used in flirting.


Fingers held together and curled upwards form a cup that can contain things more securely than the plate. Relaxed fingers form a loose cup, whilst tense fingers form a more closed cup. Two hands together form a big cup (to hold bigger things).

Cups may be used to plead for something to be given or offer something forward to others.


Fingers pinched together hold something small and delicate. This may be finger and thumb or may involve more fingers (finger and thumb is less frequent as this forms an 'O' which can have many different meanings).

It may be used when saying 'you must grasp this idea'. Held out towards others it offers them the idea. Pushed down it holds the idea whilst beating out the key points.


Curved and separated fingers form a claw. With palm facing down, the claw may threaten to reach forward and grab, scratch or tear.

If the fingers are held loosely, the shape is more of an open cup and may thus hold something. Held downwards it may gently restrain.


Drumming or tapping the fingers can indicate frustration, for example when another person is speaking and the person wants to interrupt. It may also mean that the person drumming wants to leave.

Non-verbal noise sends an audible interrupt signal to the other person. The louder the noise and faster the drumming, the greater the tension the person is feeling. Drumming with the nails makes an even louder noise and hence sends a more urgent signal.

Drumming can also indicate that the person is thinking, and that the frustration is with internal thoughts and perhaps that an easy solution cannot be found.


Sucking a finger is often an echo of doing this in childhood. Young children suck fingers or thumb as a breast substitute. This action is hence a comforter, done when the person is uncomfortable or stressed in some way. Variants on this include sucking knuckles or sucking a pencil.


The middle finger pointing upwards says 'up yours' and symbolizes a penis. The little finger in this gesture indicates the other person has a small penis (this is sometimes used as a rude gesture from a woman to a man).

The first two fingers pointing upwards and with the palm towards the self says 'f**k off' (though curiously, with the palm facing the other person indicates peace).

The finger and thumb together forming a circle may symbolize the female genitalia (perhaps likening the other person to this). It can also indicate the anus. Moved up and down it may indicate male masturbation (implying the other person, a male, is unable to gain a female partner and thus has to masturbate to get sexual relief). Yet with little finger facing outwards it can also mean 'OK' or 'wonderful'.

The index and little finger pointing upwards as a gesture can say that the other man is a cuckold. It can also signify the 'evil eye'.


Thumbs-up signals approval and agreement. Thumbs-down signals disapproval. Held sideways (and perhaps waggled) indicates uncertainty).

Roman amphitheater audiences reputedly used this signal to suggest to the emperor that a defeated gladiator be spared or killed.

Thumbs up when arms are crossed or a single hand is held across the chest is a subtle sign of approval. It can also be an invitation to others to show approval of what you are saying.

Thumbs sticking out when hands are in pockets is often a sign of confidence, feeling relaxed and in control. It can thus be both a sign of authority and also of friendliness.


Fingers crossed indicates hope (because they form a rough crucifix).

Inspecting fingernails indicates boredom and disinterest.

Fluttering fingers may indicate uncertainty ('I'm not sure') or may be a small wave (for example being child-like, indicating 'I am not a threat' or 'protect me').

Fidgeting fingers may indicate boredom or tension.

Sucking fingers is a regressive return to childhood and breast feeding. This may well indicate timidity and feelings of inferiority.

See also

Using Body Language

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