"snubbing your nose"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Sat May 5 22:37:41 UTC 2007

I may have mentioned this long ago.  I learned the thumbing the nose gesture (with waving fingers) from a little girl in my second-grade class (1955-56) who specifically said that the gesture meant "kiss my behind !"

My grandmother agreed that the gesture was coarse rather than playful, though she did not use the words of my little friend.

Though HDAS documents the phrase "give the finger" through many decades, I did not become aware of it or its accompanying gesture till I was about eleven.


Benjamin Barrett <gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM> wrote: ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender:       American Dialect Society
Poster:       Benjamin Barrett
Subject:      Re: "snubbing your nose"

Thank you for the clear description (and the laugh)! I'm sure I've done
that once or twice, but I've only seen that gesture in jest with the
people surrounding regardless of who's being thumbed. I think you're
right that the bird is what has taken the place of nose thumbing. BB

James Harbeck wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society
> Poster:       James Harbeck
> Subject:      Re: "snubbing your nose"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> James Harbeck wrote:
>>>  (nobody thumbs their nose anymore, it seems, although it was common
>>>  enough when I was a kid,
>> How do you thumb your nose at someone? Is it with the thumb on the nose
>> and the four fingers waving, a movement of the thumb outward from the
>> nose, or something else? I don't think I ever tried to match that
>> expression to an actual gesture.
> Well, in the comic books I read as a kid, the hand is put, fingers
> splayed, with the thumb at the tip of the nose, and the fingers may
> wave, usually briskly as though tinkling piano keys. So when I did
> it, that's what we did. In fact, to express greater defiance or
> contempt, we would put the other hand in front, with its thumb to the
> tip of the little finger of the first one, and might even move the
> hands rotationally on the little-fingertip-to-thumbtip axis in
> opposite directions (which means the arms would be moving with the
> elbows going in and out sort of like in the bird dance). This was
> considered impolite but not a spanking offence -- certainly not taboo
> like giving the finger, which is what we graduated to.
> But I think there's also a version where the hand moves outward
> starting at the nose.
> There's a guy doing it in
> http://www.mosquitocurtains.com/images/jpg/low_res/adams-small.jpg .
> The motion involved, if any, isn't depicted.
> I guess the youth of today go straight to giving the finger. Perhpas
> there are other gestures that are also used. No doubt adolescent boys
> in particular prefer the wanking motion (i.e., gesturing to indicate
> masturbation), which expresses contempt towards a person or topic; at
> least one kid I knew, when wishing to express particular strength of
> opinion, would do it in a grand gesture with two hands in different
> directions, as though handling two separate sesquipedalian organs
> with a common root.

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