a gesture; and cubana & green specs

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Wed Sep 25 16:35:51 UTC 2002

Douglas G. Wilson, wrote, in part, responding to a posting by GAT: "Did Green-specs knock his own hat aslant, or did he knock Tom's hat aslant?"  GAT replied that the context does not make it absolutely certain, but it appeared to GAT that Green Specs had pushed his own hat forward before assuming a fighting pose.  DGW responded that there is also the possibility of a challenge expressed by deranging the prospective opponent's hat perhaps.

Knocking someone else's hat off or pulling it down over his ears is indeed a provocative gesture, if the victim feels capable on defending himself.  I think I recall it from a Laurel & Hardy movie.  Exactly what is done here is not certain beyond dispute.  However, I would suppose that to knock sometone's hat askew would set off an immediate "rough and tumble".  In this case, Green Specs and Tom went outside for their fight, observing the proper formalities: "Jerry was bottle holder; Dick held the stop watch; Bob trembled from the heart downwards; Elec was judge; and the hackmen turned their horses' heads to Broadway and looked at the sport."  By the way: I have 3 or 4 other references to the fact that at the time it was a sign of a fashionable event to require that the carriage horses all face in the same direction.

This passage attracted by interest because the gesture in my interpretation seemed to prefigure a stereotyped "tough guy" gesture of the 20th C. and because I had another reference from a few years later showing a marked hostile reaction to an item of adornment.

I did not fail to notice during my leave certain peevish postings that some contributions to this list were irrelevant to its purpose.  I made this original posting with the thought that the gesture and the glasses were examples of American nonverbal dialects, if I may put it so.  But then, I am a guy who has read with profit and delight Archer Taylor's book on the etymology of the nose-thumbing gesture.  I am still interested in references to subsequent appearences of the gesture.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.

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