Indian sign (1895, 1897)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Tue Apr 12 03:46:44 UTC 2005

On Mon, 11 Apr 2005 20:09:52 -0400, sagehen <sagehen at WESTELCOM.COM> wrote:

>I wonder if anyone else on the list can confirm a hazy memory I have of
>one use of what may be this sign.  Fist closed, fore- & little fingers
>extended, hand held at the back of the head  to suggest "Indian"
>headdress. I think it was called the "Indian sign." (It is basically the
>same as the old European sign for cuckold,except for the position.)
>School-aged kids (in Lincoln NE in the '30s &'40s) used this as a way of
>saying "bullshit" without utterance. It might also have had other
>negative meanings.

This gesture is usually called "(the) horns", but as a hexing sign it's
more Italian than Indian.  HDAS says: "among persons of Italian descent
the gesture is usually identified as the Mediterranean sign of the evil
eye." The expression "put the horns on" meaning 'to jinx' is dated to the

In baseball usage the gesture has sometimes been called a "whammy" (double
or single), though this can also refer to other sorts of jinxes (see the
archives).  St. Louis Cardinals trainer Doc Weaver was notorious for using
the gesture to jinx other teams...

"Jinx At Bat," Chicago Tribune, Jul 27, 1947, p. G6
The most powerful jinx in baseball is Doc Weaver's famed double whammy. (A
whammy is a fist from which protrude the little and index fingers.) Doc
generally reserves the double whammy for momentous events like world
series -- his single whammy being potent enough to take care of routine
regular season business.
"Doc Weaver Dies," New York Times, May 22, 1955, p. 88
But Doc Weaver's contribution also verged on the occult. He was a
specialist in the whammy, and even the double whammy. In other words, he
could put a quick jinx on the opposition. ...
But, in its simplest, impersonal form, the Weaver whammy usually meant
advancing the steps of the dugout and giving the "horns" to the other
team. As most schoolboys know, the "horns," in this country, anyway, are
applied merely by extending the forefinger and little finger of one hand
in the general direction of the person to be whammied.
Doc Weaver invented, or at least perfected, the double whammy. He used the
two fingers on both hands.

--Ben Zimmer

More information about the Ads-l mailing list