Origin Era: Unknown
A.K.A. the “Evil Eye” gesture, is a phenomenon deeply rooted in the ancient traditions of Turkish and Middle Eastern cultures. The very word “nazar” encompasses the concept of the evil eye—a belief that envy and excessive praise can cast misfortune upon its recipients. This unique hand gesture has emerged as a potent safeguard against such malevolent forces.
Plenty of folks out there believe in supernatural powers and the need for protective symbols. And rightfully so. It’s a crazy world out there. We often see the nazar symbol depicted as a blue eye-shaped amulet or bead.
Want to throw up the Nazaar? Extend your index and pinky fingers gracefully, while curling the others inward—a gesture reminiscent of the iconic “rock on” sign. With this gesture, you’re able to emulate the shape of the Nazar amulet, giving you a lil protection against the evil eye.
In Turkish culture, it could bring good luck, deflect jealousy, and keep any sort of misfortune AWAY. And anything from earrings to wall hangings can embody this. But this isn’t limited to Turkish culture anymore. You could pick up an amulet at a market in Singapore or even Cleveland. Everybody could use a little good luck these days, right?
The sign of the horns, mano cornuta in Italian, which is used to protect against the evil eye
Saha, Subhrajyoti. Statue of Guru Padmasambhava. May 19, 2018
Origin Era: 6th c. BCE
The Roman Salute
Unfortunately, we’re all familiar with the Roman salute. Spoiler alert: Hitler made sure of that. But before that, this gesture has had an interesting history. To the Roman Empire, this salute was a sign of loyalty and respect, where fingers danced in various formations while arms remained parallel to the ground.
Sometime in the 20th century the US actually borrowed the roman salute. CRAZY, right? Especially knowing what we know now. It was the required gesture for the pledge of allegiance (remember this was meant to be a sign of loyalty). And it was in the US that the salute required the arm and fingers to be pointed straight ahead at the flag. But when the Nazis became more popular and also adopted an almost identical gesture, the US decided to switch it up to the hand over the heart.
Good call, USA.
After WWII, the German Salute had replaced the Roman salute in perpetuity.
“Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.” VOX, October 5, 2018,
https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/10/5/17940610/trump-hitler-history-historian. June 30, 2023.David, Jaques-Louis. The Oath of the Horatii. 1784White, Craig. History and Future of the Extended Arm Salute. p. 6.
Origin Era: 6th c. BCE
We all know this one! Even if you’re not too keen on yoga or meditation. Namaste, or Mudras, can be traced back so far it’s considered one of the earliest forms of communication. Ancient Rome, Egypt, Greece, and much of South Asia incorporated Mudras into religion and communication.
Consider mudras a collection of ubiquitous gestures originating from South Asian religions like Hinduism and Buddhism deserve the recognition.
Namaste is a traditional Hindu greeting. It’s a marriage of two Sanskrit (Yes, Sanskrit. Namaste goes wayyyyy back.) words and it translates to “I bow to you” or “I salute to you.” The actual gesture is “Anjali mudras” and we know it to look like prayer hands in front of the chest with a bow.
So to clarify, people often say “namaste” while performing the “Anjali mudra.”
Across cultures, we see Namaste, or Anjali Mudra show up a variety of ways, but it’s essentially about honoring, connecting, and expressing reverence.
Biswas, Saptarshi. “Employee of the Oberoi Hotel at New Delhi doing Namaste.” Flickr, March 25, 2009.
Munira Shahid Rajput, “The Source, Meanings and Use of “Mudra” Across Religions”, International Journal of Interdisciplinary Research in Arts and Humanities, Page Number 37-42, Volume 1, Issue 1, 2016.
Singh, Prakash. “India Prime Minister Designate Narendra Modi gestures as he pays tributes at Rajghat.” Time. May 26, 2014,
https://time.com/114927/narendra-modi-inauguration-swearing-in/. June 23, 2023.
Origin Era: 6th c. AD
Bowing In Japan
Bowing, or Ojigi, is a big part of Japanese culture. Ceremonies, business meetings, you name it. Buddhism and Confucianism and their influence are what brought about this gesture. And that was in the 6th century! Similar to Namaste and Mudras, the bow in Japan is a sign of respect, understanding of hierarchy, and humility.
In ancient Japan, bowing was usually performed before deities or some powerful figure. Again, a simple acknowledgement of respect and an acknowledgement of hierarchy. With time, the use and purpose of the bow became less rigid and more nuanced.
When we say “nuanced” we MEAN it. How long you bow, how low you bow, and the use of hands…ALL of that is tailored to the situation. It can even be used to say “I’m sorry.”
And as we know, the bow is still used today. This gesture has been fully incorporated into Japanese culture since the SIXTH CENTURY. SIXTH CENTURY! When it comes to branding in motion, this is easily one of the oldest, most successful instances of that.
Ogasawara, K. (January 2017). 日本人の9割が知らない日本の作法 (The Japanese Etiquette 90% of Japanese People Don’t Know). Tokyo: Seishun Publishing Co. ISBN 978-4413096607.
Yataghène, Maya-Anaïs, “People bowing in Japan.” Flickr, November 16, 2012, https://www.flickr.com/photos/mayanais/9980668875/. June 30, 2023
Origin Era: medieval
Similar to the bow but mostly for the ladies…and HEAVY on the gender roles. We present the curtsy. A graceful bend of the knee and oftentimes a gentle sweep of the skirt or dress symbolized deference, submission, humility, and/or a recognition of social norms. It gained prominence in the courtly societies of Europe but quickly gained traction in social settings too. It was no longer just for royals and nobility, but also for elders or an esteemed guest.
A good curtsy meant good manners and politeness.
In today’s world, you’ll still find this gesture amongst British royalty. If you turned on the TV way back when to see Meghan marry Harry, you probably saw many of the women at the ceremony performing the curtsy. The purpose and significance of the curtsy may resonate with the Brits, but much of society has abandoned this gesture for something else.
Beddell Smith, Bessie. Elizabeth the Queen: The Power Behind the Throne.Furlong, Christopher. Getty Images,
https://www.ok.co.uk/royal/meghan-markles-deep-curtsey-echoes-27997077. June 23, 2023.Ludlow, Henry Stephen. Jubilee Drawing Room. 1887
Origin Era: 1745
You don’t have to be US military to know this one. The bow keeps coming up (because it’s one of the OGs) but think of this the military version of a bow. Being such a new gesture in terms of human history, it’s surprising that the beginnings of the military salute are poorly documented. But there are theories…
One suggests it came from the customs of medieval knights. Typically your sword or weapon would’ve been in the right hand. So if you used that same hand to raise the visor of your helmet, it was seen as a friendly (non-threatening) greeting.
Another thought is that the gesture comes from a British Army Tradition. Juniors would take off their headgear to acknowledge a superior. But over time, that headgear became some serious hardware and it was easier to simply grab the visor.
It’s important to note that civilians aren’t required to perform the gesture and in some cases it’s considered inappropriate.
If you see someone or know someone who’s served and you wanna show respect, you’re better off shaking their hand. Save the salute for another day.
Collections – U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum.
https://qmmuseum.lee.army.mil/research/vignettes/origin-of-the-hand-salute.html#:~:t ext=No%20one%20knows%20the%20precise,a%20rock%20or%20other%20weapon. Accessed 23 June 2023.“The Stories Behind the Modern Military Salute.” United Service Organizations, https://www.uso.org/stories/1646-the-stories-behind-the-modern-military-salute. Accessed 23 June 2023.United Service Organizations, July 19, 2015.
https://www.uso.org/stories/1646-the-stories-behind-the-modern-military-salute. June 23, 2023
Origin Era: 1890s
Hand over the Heart
The hand-over-the-heart gesture is probably most familiar via the pledge of allegiance. Interestingly enough, its origins date back to ancient civilizations. Like each gesture we’ve talked about so far, the meaning and the physical act of the gesture has seen some evolution.
It’s common in Egyptian and Greek beliefs that the heart was essentially the seat of the soul. So, a hand over the heart signified connection to your emotions or was an expression of sincerity. The same gesture in Christianity symbolized humility and sincerity during prayer or devotions.
The hand-over-heart really established itself in American culture at the end of the 19th century as a sign of patriotism during the pledge of allegiance. And it’s been utilized as such, since then.
Similar gestures exist globally in places like the Philippines, also as a sign of respect and allegiance, or patriotism. However, the Mano po (of the Philippines) involves touching the forehead or lips with the right hand then touching another’s hand and placing it over the heart. They sometimes bow too. Unlike the US, this shows up in Filipino culture when greeting older individuals like grandma and grandpa.
BBC, September 25, 2017, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-37208404. June 30, 2023Lozano, Toto. “Presidential Photo.” Presidential Communications Operations Office, September 12, 2018, https://pcoo.gov.ph/photos/?post_id=72749. June 30, 2023Parzuchowski, M., Szymkow, A., Baryla, W. et al. From the heart: hand over heart as an embodiment of honesty. Cogn Process 15, 237–244 (2014).
Origin Era: 1913
The Raised Fist
In 1913, Big Bill Haywood preached about working class solidarity during a silk strike. He said, “Every finger by itself has no force.” It was a time when workers’ rights transcended trades and race. This is one of the first known uses of the raised fist.
Since then, the gesture has rooted in solidarity.
Years later in Germany, the Red Front Fighters were raising their fists as part of the organization’s salute. Antifa is the result of the Red Front Fighters’ rebranding. Raised fists could symbolize the fight for workers’ rights AND the fight against fascism.
Years later, the Black Panther Party used the gesture as a salute and so did Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics.
Again, always rooted in and symbolizing solidarity and fighting injustice.
Dominis, John. New York Times,
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/16/opinion/why-smith-and-carlos-raised-their-fists. html. June 30, 2023“The History of the Raised Fist, a Global Symbol of Fighting Oppression.” History, 31 July 2020, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/history-of-raised-fist-global-symbol -fighting-oppression.
Origin Era: 1939
The Human Chain is another form of solidarity. This is another gesture that doesn’t have a clear origin but we can point to moments in history when it’s been used. The most powerful piece of this brand in motion is that people are literally intertwined. The interlocking of arms or holding of hands is not just symbolic but an actual manifestation of human connection. AND commitment to each other.
People are LITERALLY coming together.
The Baltic Way is a prime example. In 1989, more than a million people joined together to create a human chain that was 373 miles long. Imagine that. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania demanded independence from the USSR and Germany.
Again in 2013, a human chain was formed in Catalonia as they fought for independence from Spain. This chain was 250 miles long.
Jordan Peele made a nod to the human chain in one of his movies just a few years ago. Can you guess which one?
Even though those are only a few examples, you can’t deny the power of collective action. Especially when “collective action” looks like a million humans holding hands in solidarity and protest.
“Catalans Form Human Chain for Independence from Spain.” BBC News, 11 Sept. 2013. www.bbc.com, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-24052713.Sabat, Clara Polo, Own Work, September 11, 2013Tambur, Helen Wright and Silver. “The Baltic Way – the Longest Unbroken Human Chain in History.” Estonian World, 23 Aug. 2021,
https://estonianworld.com/life/estonia-commemorates-30-years-since-the-baltic-way-th e-longest-unbroken-human-chain-in-history/.The Baltic Way: Human Chain Linking Three States in Their Drive for Freedom. Ref 2008-05, UNESCO.Vasauskas, L. “Photo of the Baltic Way.” August 23 1989, https://www.europeana.eu/portal/en/record/2025903/_E1989_VIL178.html.
Origin Era: mid-20th century
Hawaiian Shaka Sign
The Shaka gesture is undeniably a part of Hawaiian culture, especially surfers. Typically, you’ll see it as an extension of the thumb and pinky finger while the other fingers are curled into the palm. The hand is then casually waved or held in a relaxed position. It just means “thank you” or “hang loose.”
When you’re out on the water, looking for the next wave, you don’t have the time or mobility to do anything crazy when you greet someone. This gesture is meant as a friendly “hello” on the water.
Unlike any other example of branding in motion, the shaka sign IS Hawaii. In no other place has the gesture established roots and it’s not even a question where it came from.
BUT, it’s still early. The shaka sign appeared sometime in the 60s or 70s. Who knows where this brand in motion will pop up next and how its meaning might change. For now, hang loose 🤙🏾
Durn, Sarah. “The Dark History of Hawai’i’s Iconic Hand Gesture.” Atlas Obscura, 14 Dec. 2021, http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/hawaii-shaka-hand-origin.Jones, Nina. October 1, 2020,
https://polynesia.com/blog/shaka/frank-fasi-courtesy-of-the-honolulu-star-bulletin. June 30, 2023Tsutsumi, Cheryl. The Origin of the Shaka | Hawaiian Airlines.
https://www.hawaiianairlines.com/hawaii-stories/culture/origin-of-the-shaka#:~:text=It’s%20attributed%20to%20David%20%E2%80%9CLippy,campaign%20for%20mayor%20of %20Honolulu. Accessed 29 June 2023.
Alicia is Studio J Lorne’s Social media coordinator, a prominent eco-warrior, and an aspiring lawyer that could probably cross you over on the basketball court.
Jason Lorne Giles
Jason is the founder of Studio J Lorne and a bar-spittin’, hard-hittin’, IP-driven, creative polymath with a a penchant for problem solving.
Allison is formerly an art handler, a certified sky jack operator, and great at hanging things from ceilings. She’ll paint or draw on any surface, including your face. Just kidding.