Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 04-05-2004, 01:31 PM
Biggirl Biggirl is offline
Join Date: Feb 2000
Location: Right here
Posts: 18,079
Why does rubbing your index fingers together mean "shame on you"?

And who does it mean "shame on you"? to? Just Americans? Canadians? The British?

Just wondering.
Old 04-05-2004, 01:35 PM
dnooman dnooman is offline
Join Date: May 2003
Location: Columbus, Ohio
Posts: 4,829
You mean as if one finger was a carrot and the other were the peeler?
Old 04-05-2004, 01:53 PM
OneYogini OneYogini is offline
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: my happy place, FL
Posts: 541
Here are some excerpts from a Google search (take your pick):

(1) According to BODYTALK: A WORLD GUIDE TO GESTURES (1994) by Desmond Morris, the SHAME ON YOU gesture used with or by children, only appears in North America. The origin of the gesture is unknown, but the rubbing of two fingers is thought to symbolize friction. There is a related gesture, with a different meaning, however, used in Wales, Germany, and Austria, in which one finger ‘saws’ across the other pointed one, and which is considered an insult. The idea of friction is also considered to be playing a role here, but its origin is also unknown.

(2) The custom originated in medievil England when pickpockets ofter had their fingers cut off. Originally, kids would make a chopping gesture with one index finger against the other as a threat or warning that the "recipient" would be shamefully punished.

(3) I read somewhere that the "shame on you" finger gesture (which seems to disappear from our catalog of gestures by our junior high years) stems from making the sign of the cross to ward off evil. Perhaps we were trying to keep the shame of the offending person from being transmitted to us.
Old 04-05-2004, 01:54 PM
Larry Mudd Larry Mudd is offline
Join Date: Aug 2001
Location: Ass end of Alberta
Posts: 17,897
There are two popular explanations--

1) The gesture was originally one of "chopping" rather than "rubbing," and referred to a common punishment for thieves.

2) The "rubbing" bit came later, and originally it was just folks making an ad hoc cross to ward of wickedness.

Both of these explanations seem a bit dubious to me. When I was a kid, I strongly associated that gesture with the taunt "Liar, liar, pants on fire!" and assumed it referred to starting a fire by rubbing two sticks together. I'd say that's probably in the same ballpark as the other two for having some actual resemblance to the true origin -- for whatever that's worth.




Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump

All times are GMT -5. The time now is 05:10 AM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2018, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to:

Send comments about this website to:

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to:

Copyright © 2018 STM Reader, LLC.

Copyright © 2017