The Awkwardness of the Thumbs Up

I love Wikipedia, it’s an amazing piece of technology and great example of the open source movement and knowledge sharing. Typically, I use it for more important things, but today, I decided to look up the history of the “thumbs up.” Throughout history, the thumbs up has been a symbol for respect, acceptance and approval. Take a look at the full article here, but for now, here are some international uses of the thumbs up:

  • In Iran it is traditionally an obscene gesture, equivalent to the use of the middle finger in the Western world.
  • In Italy, Germany, Greece and Hungary in the right context, it can simply indicate the number one. Generally it is perceived as “Okay“.
  • In Russia and Finland the meaning of this expression is “awesome”, “good”, or “well done”. Another meaning in Finland means the same as “keeping fingers crossed”.
  • In Australia, a thumbs-up is generally perceived as meaning “terrific”. Australian Sign Language assigns this hand shape the meaning “good”.
  • In the United States, American Sign Language users use this hand shape to indicate the number ten (10) when wiggled modestly left and right.[8] When held stationary and thrust toward another person the meaning is “yourself”.[9] When lifted up by the other palm, the meaning is “help”.[10]
  • In Japanese sign language, the thumbs-up indicates a man, or male gender as opposed to an extended pinky indicating female.
  • In India, although the gesture is well accepted, similar gestures have negative connotations:
  • While doing a thumbs up, if the hand is wagged from side to side in a reverse-pendulum like movement, it means “won’t work” or “disagree”.
  • Still, the acceptability of the “thumbs up” gesture is seen in the popular soda Thums Up.
  • In Egypt, Iraq and Israel, it means perfect or very good. It is widely common between people.
  • In Brazil, it can be used in lieu of saying “thanks”.
  • In Denmark, thumbs-up generally means “awesome”, or “good to go”. However thumbs-down is usually perceived very negatively.

I got this idea for this post this morning when I saw a disturbing photo of Mitt Romney giving a thumbs up. It is seriously one of the most intense photos of a thumbs up ever taken. It’s in the slide show below, when you flip through you’ll see it if you haven’t already. It’s bizarre. Anyways, Mitt is not alone with his awkward thumbs – up, I collected a bunch from presidential candidates and presidents, the thumbs up has become an American staple for the presidency. Some do it really well, others are in need of work. One thing can became apparently clear, a solid thumbs up is an art and not easy to do. Two thumbs is extremely rare.

I also noticed presidential candidates and presidents are found of using the thumb to count, some of the images show this deceptive use of the thumbs up.

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But the winner of the most awkward thumbs up goes to good ole Joe Biden. No need for any further analysis, just check out the photo below, it’s actually quite amazing:



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