Dictionary of Gestures
Expressive Comportments and Movements in Use around the World
336 pp., 6 x 9 in, 915 b&w illus.
- Published: November 27, 2018
- Publisher: The MIT Press
- Published: August 1, 2023
- Publisher: The MIT Press
An illustrated guide to more than 850 gestures and their meanings around the world, from a nod of the head to a click of the heels.
Gestures convey meaning with a flourish. A vigorous nod of the head, a bold jut of the chin, an enthusiastic thumbs-up: all speak louder than words. Yet the same gesture may have different meanings in different parts of the world. What Americans understand as the “A-OK gesture,” for example, is an obscene insult in the Arab world. This volume is the reference book we didn't know we needed—an illustrated dictionary of 850 gestures and their meanings around the world. It catalogs voluntary gestures made to communicate openly—as distinct from sign language, dance moves, involuntary “tells,” or secret handshakes—and explains what the gesture conveys in a variety of locations. It is organized by body part, from top to bottom, from head (nodding, shaking, turning) to foot (scraping, kicking, playing footsie).
We learn that “to oscillate the head while gently throwing it back” communicates approval in some countries even though it resembles the headshake of disapproval used in other countries; that “to tap a slightly inflated cheek” constitutes an erotic invitation when accompanied by a wink; that the middle finger pointed in the air signifies approval in South America. We may already know that it is a grave insult in the Middle East and Asia to display the sole of one's shoe, but perhaps not that motorcyclists sometimes greet each other by raising a foot. Illustrated with clever line drawings and documented with quotations from literature (the author, François Caradec, was a distinguished and prolific historian of literature, culture, and humorous oddities, as well as a novelist and poet), this dictionary offers readers unique lessons in polylingual meaning.
François Caradec has done for the pose what Samuel Johnson has done for the word: compiling an elementary dictionary of meanings for signs that have heretofore gone uncollected. A whimsical anthology of gesticulations, this lexicon offers us a grand sweep of the arm, directing our gaze across the expansive pantomime of silent speech. Each twitch of the brow, each stroke of the chin, each flaunt of the hand, now becomes a kind of quiet haiku for us to contemplate—our fist closed, our thumb raised, complete with a wink of approval.
Christian Bök, Lecturer in Literary Studies, Charles Darwin University
Some innate Cartesian character seems to compel French obsessives to make useful lists of things. They have been pioneers in reference works from the Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française to the Encyclopédie to works cataloging every corner of scholarship and trivia. François Caradec was a great collector of words and ideas, and his Dictionary of Gestures is a unique, idiosyncratic, and delightful work that goes beyond language, with witty explanations elegantly translated by Chris Clarke.
Peter Sokolowski, Editor-at-Large, Merriam-Webster
Usually, the primary intention of a dictionary isn't to provoke laughter. This one is an exception. It is both the most serious and the funniest dictionary I have encountered. And that is likely because words aren't its principal focus. And so, I clap my hands together several times. Fist closed, I raise my thumb. Thank you, Caradec!
Jacques Jouet, author of Upstaged, Mountain R, My Beautiful Bus, Savage, and other novels
This work deserves a thumbs up for its appeal to a broad audience.
If François Caradec's delightfully idiosyncratic Dictionary of Gestures is to be believed, almost all of them amount to some species of mortal insult or erotic invitation somewhere in the world.
[a] huge contemporary relevance, helping to avoid misunderstandings in an increasingly multicultural society. This book could even save lives.
A strangely eclectic reference manual....an eyeopener.