Straight dope on Crossing fingers

The gesture of crossing one’s index and middle finger (seen here as the logo for the Oregon state lottery), seems to have two entirely separate meanings. As in the logo, it can be used as a lucky charm. If hidden while making a statement, it means that the statement was a lie and that the teller is absolved from any punishment for lying.

So, question one: What the heck is up with these meanings, especially the second one? How did one hand gesture engender two so different meanings?

Question two: How far back does this hand gesture date?

Question three: Presuming this hand gesture is only common to the English speaking world, do other cultures have similar hand gestures? If so, what are they? If this hand gesture is common to other cultures, why? And does the meaning translate the same?

I’m so perplexed!

I always thought that when you crossed your fingers behind your back while lying it was a warding gesture, warding off being found out, and warding off “the Wrath of the Gods” also? :confused:

I’ve seen it used that way, but I’ve also seen it as a get out free card sort of thing. The person tells the lie, the listener calls them on it, the lier holds up the crossed fingers, usually while saying “neener neener neener, you can’t get me.”

Granted, I haven’t seen this exchange in many years. Thank Og.

Wiki article.

Damn it. My wiki-fu needs tuning. Thanks, Jonny L.A.

My Wiki-fu fails me sometimes to. It’s the least I can do for the chicken gall bladder info. :wink:

If this dates to pre-Christian times, why did it represent a cross?

The cross, being a very basic symbol, goes back way past Christianity and has been used by cultures all over the world.

I too had always thought that the crossed fingers represented the Cross, and that both the “good luck” and the “voided promise” were results of the idea that with this cross, the person believed that Jesus would be with him.

However, in light of Wikipedia’s information, I’d suggest a different idea. And as samclem suggests, this idea has nothing to do with the Christian ideas of a cross: When two people form this sign together, their fingers are joined or knotted in a way which symbolizes unity. And when done by a single individual, the two fingers are curled around each other, and they look (to me at least) very much like cords which are twisted to form a single rope, an even better symbol of unity.

I know for sure that in the German speaking world (and I suspect in most of Europe), crossing your fingers has only the “voided promise” meaning, and nothing else.
So wishing somebody good luck and showing them the crossed fingers at the same time really means wishing them bad luck, and ridiculing them on top of that. It took me a while to figure that out when watching American movies.

If ever a topic cried out for an Official Cecil Investigation, this one is ripe. I will be crossing my fingers while I wait for it.

Any info on what the basic meaning of it was, in Pre-Christian times? Can you link to a discussion of pre-Christian symbols? Maybe Egyptian hieroglyphics would help…off to read.

Data point – in Israel (non-English Speaking but heavily influenced by many cultures, including English speaking ones), crossed fingers carry both meanings (good luck and “free lie”.)

I, too, suspect that the meanings are somewhat overlapping, in that the ides behind crossing fingers while lying is to ask for good luck in not being fouind out / not suffering the consequences of the sin of lying.

In Sweden we don’t cross our fingers for good luck, we “hold our thumbs”.
We still cross our fingers when telling a lie, though.

Here in England, it’s the reverse: the “good luck” meaning is native, and the “voided promise” sense is the one I’ve picked up from American media.

I imagine that this would explain Pullet’s question of how one gesture has two separate meanings – they came to America with separate sets of immigrants.

The Sun Cross is an example of a pre-Christian cross. I think the particular dimensions of the Christian cross (with one arm longer than the others to look like a Roman execution device) are probably unique to Christianity. A swastika is another widespread non-Christian cross design.

Hold your thumbs how? Do you stuff your thumb into your fist, or wrap the fingers of the opposite hand around the thumb?

Huh. So two distinct origins. Or one origin (warding off badness) that split (ward off badness in general and ward off specific punishment for misdeed) that then got introduced by separate cultures in America to create a symbol with two fairly distinct meanings. Have I got it?

The former.