"O. K." sign

Gregory {Greg} Downing gd2 at IS2.NYU.EDU
Thu Nov 2 18:26:15 UTC 2000

At 10:01 AM 11/2/2000 -0800, you wrote:
>Oh, no!!!
>A few years ago I used the "o.k." sign in a conversation with my very
>gracious hosts on a visit to China.  They didn't seem to get it, so I
>provided a translation.  Only later did it occur to me to wonder if in fact
>I had inadvertently given them the finger.  Your message removes the veil
>of hopeful ignorance I've carefully maintained ever since.
>Peter Mc.

I don't know if the Latin American gesture is known in China, though the
American one is quite possibly unfamiliar there. However, the American
gesture is so common here in the US that travelers and expatriates often
assume it is a universal gesture of approval and therefore highly useful to
those with an imperfect knowledge of the local language.

The similar gesture that is currently under disussion is known throughout
(?) Latin America, including Brasil where the language is Ports. not
Spanish. It is not identical to the US gesture, at least not in the parts of
Brasil where I resided -- the US gesture places the thumb at the bottom of
the gesture and the Latin American one is basically inverted, with the thumb
at the top. I was told that the origin of the LatAm gesture is some kind of
negative comment on the anal aperture of the person at whom it is directed,
but of course this may be folklore or a distortion, and there may well be a
variety of "explanations" for the genture.

Actually, in urban and toruist areas, a fair number of Brasilians are
familiar with the American gesture and are not at all confused by it.
However, they will sometimes point out that it is best avoided because of
the resemblance to what is, in not a few contexts, a taboo gesture locally.
Use and non-use of the US gesture were a signifiant barometer of
newbie/non-newbie status among American kids in the US-curriculum high
school I attended in Sao Paulo.

Greg Downing, at greg.downing at nyu.edu or gd2 at is2.nyu.edu

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