"You have no idea what you're doing, do you? You're just having fun with your hands..."
Any situation where characters communicate with gestures and motions, usually of the hands, as opposed to using voices. This is often done specifically to avoid speaking, either because somebody present is unable to hear or comprehend a given language, because background noise drowns out any attempt at speech, or because the characters are sneaking and cannot make noise. American Sign Language (and those Sign Languages that are not American) is perhaps the perfect example, allowing deaf individuals to communicate with one another through the use of sight rather than hearing.
are prevalent in reality as well as fiction. Whenever you indicate something by pointing at it, you're using a Hand Signal
. Armed forces use them all the time, for convenience or stealth. Here, try it yourself: when someone approaches you, hold your hand out to them, palm-out, for "Stop." You didn't actually say
"Stop," but the other person saw your gesture and probably knew its meaning intuitively. The "Cut-Off" signal, made by either pointing two fingers at your throat and waving back and forth or by drawing an extended index finger across your jugular vein, is also an example of a gesture with a universally recognized (not to say slightly disturbing) meaning.
This trope is frequently played for laughs, usually through Lampshade Hanging
. Instances include a character misunderstanding a signal
, thinking a character is gesturing meaninglessly when they are attempting to frantically make themselves understood, and the gratuitous use of hand signals when they aren't required.
Miming the Cues
is a subtrope where one character attempts to surreptitiously coach another using improvised hand signals.
This trope is not Body Language
, and does not include habitual gestures like poses and tics. Also has nothing to do with Talking with Signs
, which is about writing on wooden signs. A sufficiently developed set of Hand Signals may evolve into Talking through Technique
or an actual Signed Language
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Anime and Manga
- Haruhi Suzumiya. In the first season's Baseball Episode, the title character uses overly complicated hand signals to give instructions to Kyon and Mikuru. Problem is, she didnt bother to tell her teammates what the signs meant, so Kyon snarks about her trying to cast a spell to reduce the opposing pitcher's stats.
- The five main ninja villages in Naruto each have their own version of military Hand Signals, though some overlap is obvious and visible.
- In a scene in Yureka, a Cloud Cuckoolander and a girl wondering about both their sanity hold a conversation from their respective windows on two opposite sides of a courtyard entirely in sweeping motions, conveniently translated for the reader.
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
- 1st Gig episode "In the Forest of Pupae – PORTRAITZ". The Major and Batou use this when they infiltrate a youth reform facility for fear of having their comms intercepted/destroyed/hacked after losing contact with Togusa.
- 2nd GIG episode #4 "Natural Enemy". During a military live fire exercise, one of the soldiers uses hand signals to control the movement of troops infiltrating a building.
- This is foreshadowing to the show finale where a group of antagonistic elite soldiers communicate with hand signals, and only use thermoptic camouflage while moving from cover to cover, since all electronic communications in the region are being jammed, and they know that slightest miscommunication could spell disaster while dealing with Section 9.
- In Eyeshield 21, Mamori and Hiruma devise a system of hand signals to use during games. Hiruma, smart-ass that he is, demonstrates by spelling out the message "The team manager secretly ate all the cream puffs."
- Upotte. During the jungle mock battle, T91 and Aug demonstrate correct usage of hand signals to coordinate their attack.
- Toriko's fellow Gourmet Hunter Zebra resorts to this whenever the latter wears out his voice through overuse of Makes Me Wanna Shout.
- Tokurei Sochi Dantai Stella Jogakuin Koutouka C 3 Bu has an excellent example of hand signals used to coordinate bounding overwatch and fire and maneuver.
- In the Avatar: The Last Airbender fanfic Bringing Out the Blue, Zuko and Mai have a large vocabulary of them. Toph and Suki also use some with each other.
- This is a plot point in the Naruto fic First Try: Team 7. A Kiri Hunter nin who went to capture Zabuza in Wave realize the other two groups are from Konoha from their sign language dialect, which resulted into a brawl.
- Apparently people tend to sign in the prominent clan language of their team, but Naruto signs in a Uchiha accent, which he picked up from running away from the Uchiha police. He had to teach Sakura how to sign, while Sasuke refuses to sign out of embarrassment.
- In the climax of the Lilo & Stitch/Star Trek crossover Starlight, Jumba hides his hands behind his back to sign a code for Pleakley to enter into his communicator, to avoid their captor seeing. If only he hadn't gotten it incorrect the first time...
- In The Legend of Total Drama Island, during the first challenge, when Sadie demands to be on the same team with Katie and Chris refuses, Sadie surreptitiously gives Katie a hand signal that Chris “didn't see and wouldn't have known how to interpret". This is the signal for Katie and Sadie to physically assault Chris.
- This is Chell's means of communication in the Portal fanfic The Punishment.
- In the Touhou fanfic Twenty Years Later Bunbunmaru Spirit News Archives, Yukari's Oni Shikigami talks through these, in an odd manner bordering on the incomprehensible.
- The Tanith of Gaunt's Ghosts have a masterful grasp of this trope. Every member of the regiment has a wide vocabulary of hand signals, and specific characters that have been deafened by artillery fire communicate with a form of sign language.
- Some hand signs are more or less universal across the Guard; other regiments such as the Valhallan 597th use them as well. The Ghosts have a much more nuanced version, though, as befits their role in scouting and infiltration.
- In Red Seas Under Red Skies, there's one scene where Jean appears to be betraying Locke, and Locke panics because he misses Jean's hand signal letting him know it's all an act.
- In Dune multiple characters use hand signals to give orders to their subordinates. In fact, there are entire sign languages developed separately by the Atreides and the Harkonnens that allow them to communicate irrelevant information verbally and important stuff, with their hands, making sure that even if they are overheard, the enemy won't learn anything.
- In The Thrawn Trilogy Talon Karrde's smuggler gang use pre-determined physical gestures or turns of phrase to pass covert messages between themselves.
- In the Protector of the Small quartet the King's Own, a small and highly mobile mounted army, has hand signals for some situations that hardly need them, like a company moving out, and some for situations that do, like scouts reporting that something's close. Kel's sparrows soon learn them.
- In Mirror Friend Mirror Foe, a ninja family is not only trained in that... They can communicate that way while having a verbal conversation on a totally unrelated matter.
- Bored of the Rings. When Frito Bugger first sees Stomper the ranger in the Goode Eats & Lodging inn, Stomper uses a variety of hand gestures to invite Frito to meet him in the inn's bathroom in 5 minutes. The other patrons think he's playing Charades and chime in with suggestions.
- Used in The Wise Man's Fear; an entire culture uses hand signals to denote emotions instead of facial expression.
- In the Animorphs series, Andalite fleet officers communicate using hand signs whenever possible (they have four eyes, two of them on highly maneuverable stalks, so see each other is no problem). Telepathic "thought-speech" is reserved solely for situations where signs are impossible, primarily ship-to-ship and ship-to-fighter communication. Actual voice and other sound alerts are restricted to the ship's computer.
- The Wheel of Time has the Seanchan Empress, who communicates with one of her attendants known as her Voice using a personalized sign language dialect, and the Voice then pronounces it. The Empress directly addressing someone is either very good or very bad for them.
- There's also the "handtalk" developed by the female warrior society Maidens of the Spear. Evolved from tactical hand gestures, it's become a full-blown Signed Language, used now primarily to make jokes at the expense of a man who is in earshot.
- Dean Koontz's Phantoms. When the helicopter arrives at Snowfield, one of the men aboard gestures to the survivors asking where the supplies should be dropped. Lisa Yamaguchi gestures to the other survivors to form a circle, and the supplies are dropped in the middle of it.
- Earth's Children has the Neanderthal people using sophisticated signs and signals. Most stories about Neanderthals written at this time did, because anthropologists believed that while Neanderthals were intelligent, they lacked a hyoid bone in their throat, which is necessary for sufficient variations in sound to evolve a complex spoken language. So they have a few spoken words and many signals. As Science Marches On, they found at least one Neanderthal with a hyoid bone.
Live Action TV
- Game Shows: Producers and directors often use these to communicate back and forth to the host, when they don't want a contestant to be tipped off of the answer or the outcome of a game. These often will change over time as contestants get wind of the signals. One application is Wheel of Fortune, when the director signals (subtly) to Pat Sajak that the contestant has landed on the $100,000 or $1 million wedges.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- The Initiative uses military sign language, but the Scooby gang doesn't, which makes it hard for Riley to patrol with them.
- In one episode, Riley pumps his fist up and down, which the other characters interpret as a gesture meaning to follow him. "Like a train. Choo choo!" Then they start asking what it means. Very loudly.
Riley: It means "Yell real loud, so the vampires who don't know we're coming will have a sporting chance."
Xander: See, now he's all mad and sarcastic.
- Used from time to time as serious, occasionally played for laughs in Stargate SG-1. When Stargate Command was once infiltrated, Jack and Daniel, as well as some Red Shirts, assemble outside of the infirmary. Jack, being a military Colonel, fires off a brief set of hand signals. Daniel, being a civilian archaeologist, signals back by exaggeratedly mouthing the words 'there are people in there', complete with pointing, and pantomiming a walking person with his fingers. Exasperated, Jack signals with his fingers the number three, brandishing his weapon with the other hand, indicating they'd simply rush the room together. Parodied in the very meta episode "200", in an imaginary sequence where Jack is turned invisible. On a mission, the other members of SG-1 sit there waiting, at which point Invisi-Jack asks "Can't you see my hand signals?"
- In Supernatural, Sam and Dean have occasionally been shown using military hand signals when silent coordination is needed. Never explicitly brought up, but their Dad (who trained them to hunt) was an ex-marine, making it likely he taught them.
- In the Farscape episode "Through the Looking Glass," John Crichton and Aeryn Sun are subjected to a loud, piercing noise that makes it impossible for them to hear one another. Failing to yell loud enough to carry a conversation, they both resort to amusing pantomime for the next several minutes. In particular, Aeryn indicates the sword-wielding D'Argo by chopping with an imaginary sword, and Crichton somehow manages to refer to the diminutive, froglike, hoverchair-riding Rygel by miming a small object floating up and down with his hands.
- Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Doomsday Machine". When Spock relieves Commodore Decker of duty and Decker refuses, Spock gives a hand signal to a nearby security guard, beckoning them over to reinforce his threat to arrest him if he refuses.
- The glorious scene the Doctor Who episode "Partners in Crime," where the Doctor and Donna are spying on the same enemy from the opposite windows of a room. They notice each other, and hold an entire conversation(which begins at 1:12), starting with distinct mouthing and evolving into miming with especial emphasis, before noticing that the group they were supposed to be watching was watching them.
- Amusingly done in an early episode of Sanctuary, Magnus and Ashley are communicating an attack plan (Ashley wants to use a different plan). Magnus finishes the exchange with a signal that Will can't translate and he asks about it. Magnus threatened to cut Ashley's allowance.
- In Best Love, Dokko Jin gives Ae Jung's nephew a secret hand signal so he could have some alone time with her.
- On The West Wing, President Bartlett has had a very inconvenient MS attack while traveling to an important conference in China. While he regains some of his mobility by the time Air Force One arrives, he's still confined to a chair and heavily fatigued. CJ tells him to give a signal if he needs a break from the conference, and suggests he tug on his ear to let them know he needs them to make up a "something's gone wrong back home that needs the President on the phone" excuse. Unfortunately, CJ forgets to tell anyone else about this, largely because the President himself didn't take it seriously at first. She's absent for much of the conference, and returns to find the President frantically tugging on his ear.
- In Murphy Brown, Miles often uses the "stretch" and "speed up" signals used by television directors.
- And in iCarly, the "count down from 5 with silent "1" and pointing for "on" is Freddie's Catch Phrase.
- In The Unit, hand signals are seen from time to time; a good example is the first episode of Season 4.
- Switched at Birth has several deaf ASL speakers among the main cast and did an entire episode in sign language.
- The hosts commonly use a variant form of a scuba-diving "OK" sign, fist on top of head. Presumably it's the version Jamie used in his dive-business days, since he's the one who taught the team those signs as preparation for the Alcatraz Escape.
- Adam goofs with his hand signs during "Underwater Car". Watch closely after he grabs for the emergency air on his first trip down in the car; he first uses a thumbs-up to try and tell Jamie he's all right, which really means "I need to surface" in this context. He then switches to the thumb-and-fingers OK sign, but the other divers keep him on air for the ascent anyway.
- In It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Frank and Dee sneak into Frank's ex-wife's house to steal her dog. Frank keeps making up military-style hand signals to communicate with Dee, but Dee just snaps at him, saying that they're meaningless.
- Frasier: Roz plays charades on several occasions to communicate something to Frasier while he is taking a call on the show. On one occasion, she named a caller by pointing to her eye and leaning when her mouth was full.note
- GURPS Fantasy II. The Madlanders have a set of hand signs that they use to communicate with each other while hunting.
- Dungeons & Dragons.
- The Drow had a language of hand signs in their original appearance.
- Forgotten Realms sourcebook on Harpers also mentioned their own "silent code" of gestures and expresions. High Drow (archaic dialect used mostly in sacred texts and secret talks between priestesses) is said to have its own hand sign system.
- 1st Edition had alignment languages, which included special signals and gestures.
- Star Wars saga edition had handsignals in one splatbook handled elegantly as a language. Well worth the cost, if you're playing that sort of campaign.
- In Nomine (American version) supplement Superiors I: War and Honor. When questioning/interrogating an angel, Dominic's angels communicate with each other using finger/hand codes so as not to tip off the suspect.
- Neverwhere RPG. Sewer Folk use Handsign (hand signals, mime and touch) to communicate with each other.
- 1st Edition adventure The Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues Mission 4. When the Boss Honcho of the PACE Studio realizes that the Troubleshooters want Black Boxes, he will use a hand sign to his Goons as a signal to attack.
- The XP edition has a skill for this (Twitchtalk). Secret societies often use it for recognition signals (many of which are similar enough to be mixed up).
- The Battlefield series:
- In the intro cutscene to Battlefield 2142, an infantry squad enters an enemy Titan through the vents. The leader raises a fist, tilts it forward and opens it, pointing his spread fingers forward for "Advance."
- Mocked in the "Rainbow Sprinkles" trailer for Battlefield: Bad Company. B Company don't recognize the signals Sarge is using, speculate about what he's trying to say, and ultimately don't see the point of using them when they're all standing right there anyway. A frustrated Sarge makes a closed fist and explains "This one means I'm gonna put your lights out!!".
- Eddie's orders to his troops in Brütal Legend all have associated hand signals that appear on the orders cross. He even goes through them in the Justified Tutorial: he's allegedly teaching the somewhat thick Headbangers what the signals mean, but he's also teaching the player. Stop is the military raised fist. For follow, he raises his ax. Charge is, appropriately, throwing "the horns".
- In Metal Gear Solid 4, you can sometimes spot a PMC squad leader giving hand signals to direct his troops around an area.
- Day of Defeat has stock phrases in voice (which good bots understand) doubled in silent signals.
- South Park : when the boys are playing detective Cartman uses (made-up) military sign language to communicate with Kyle, but he doesn't understand; so Cartman translates as he goes:
I - see - two guys - inside - They - have - Sarah Peterson's - doll - you - stupid - Jew!
- In Ben 10, Grandpa Max shows a knowledge of military hand signs during a stealth mission to rescue giant alien monster eggs (and Ben). It Makes Sense in Context.
- In Star Wars: Clone Wars, Captain Fordo is completely silent in the heat of battle, and gives orders to his ARC troopers exclusively with hand signals.
- The Penguins of Madagascar: While infiltrating a plush toy factory, Skipper gives King Julien hand signals to go ahead and keep a lookout. Julien doesn't understand the signals, obviously, so Skipper simply screams the instructions to him, who responds with "Why didn't you just say so?"
- In B.O.B.'s Big Break, the short made for the Monsters vs. Aliens DVD, General Monger (who was still captain at this point) does a series of silly-looking signals to a team of unseen commandos ready to attack if the monsters tried anything funny. Later it is revealed that there are no commandos, and Monger just likes doing silly signals.
- The Simpsons: When Homer was in the power plant's baseball team, Mr. Burns instructs him with a series of bizarre hand signals which Homer doesn't understand, mostly because his mind wandered off while Burns was explaining them. This worked in their favor: Homer is hit by a pitch as he looks at Burns' signals, sending in the game-winning run.
- The Teen Titans episode "257-494" had Beast Boy trying to make all sorts of complicated hand signals while peering around a corner. The rest of the Titans simply walk past him. He keeps doing it for a few seconds before realizing they've moved on.
- Jonny Quest episode "Pirates From Below". When Colonel Svedry is up on the underwater prober and about to enter it, he makes a beckoning gesture to his subordinate who is standing on the sand below.
- The Herculoids episode "The Raiders". Igoo and Zandor use them to signal the beginning of the attack.
- Played with and Lampshaded in The Venture Bros..
Brock: You have no idea what that means, do you?
Hank: Sure I do!
Brock: You're just having fun with your hands, aren't you?
- A deleted scene shows another way that could have gone, where Hank did know what he was doing. Brock interprets Hank's signals, but vetoes his idea because they don't have a ladder. Hank says that's hardly his fault.
- In live broadcasting, hand signals are used by the director to communicate with on-air performers:
- Raising arm, lowering it dramatically and pointing to the person(s) on stage = Cue. "You are now live and on the air" (Usually preceded by a countdown from five in which "one" is not spoken, just in case the microphones go live early - familiar to iCarly viewers.)
- Clenching fists together and pulling them apart slowly in a stretching motion = Slow down. "You have more time than material, stretch it out."
- Spinning open hands or fingers over and around one another in a rapid circular/chopping motion = "Hurry up, commercial break/end of show approaching rapidly"
- Hand held palm up, a raising gesture: Louder. Palm down, patting gesture: Softer.
- One hand raised like a traffic cop saying "stop": Stand by.
- Slashing motion across neck = Cut. "Stop saying/doing what you are now immediately"
- There is a similar set of signals used in recording to indicate cues, crossfades, segues and so on.
- Military hand signals established around WW 1 are used to communicate without giving away your location. Various signs indicate the direction of the enemy, the distance to the enemy, and the amount or type of enemies.
- Baseball players and coaches communicate in hand signals—catchers signaling what pitch to throw, coaches signaling to batters and base runners—both to hide strategy decisions from the other team and due to the large distances between players that make audible signals impractical.
- The hand signals used by cyclists are also standard practice for motorists to use when their cars' turn signals are for some reason non-functional. For both reasons, you will be most likely required to know them for a Driving Test.
- Many types of animals are trained with hand signals. One well known example is the use of signals with whales or dolphins. Signals and signs are also used with deaf dogs. Horseback riders use a variant,touch signals, in Dressage.
- Hand signals are also used by deaf people with hearing-aid dogs.
- In the UK, a system of hand signals known as Tic-tac is frequently used by bookmakers at racecourses to signal betting odds to one another. John McCririck is well known for using these when speaking to camera.
- Hand signaling is also used in the open outcry format of stock/trade exchange. Further info can be found here.
- Referees in American Football use hand signals to "announce" the result of a play, a time out, or a foul. These days, most college refs and all professional-football refs will use a wireless microphone to announce the fouls over the stadium PA, but they'll still give the hand signals as well.
- Divers, who cannot speak under water, learn a series of hand signals so that they can communicate with one another while submerged - basic ones include thumbs up for "I am ascending", thumbs down for "I am descending", open hand with spread fingers rocking back and forth for "Something is wrong", and three versions of "OK" - the normal one, a circle of thumb and fingers for when you are wearing gloves, and both arms making a triangle around your head for when you're too far from others for them to clearly identify a one-handed OK. The "Cut Off" gesture mentioned in the page head is intended for one of the most serious situations a diver can encounter: "I am out of air".
- Workers around noisy heavy machinery such as earth-movers, cranes, railroad locomotives, and aircraft have their own vocabulary of hand signals to communicate between the operators and those on the ground as there must be clear ways to direct and/or stop large things from moving in a hurry to avoid running someone or something over. For example, the basic railroad brakeman signals are: Up-and-down, go forward. Circular motion, back it up. Side-to-side, stop. (They're as simple as possible so as to be usable with just a lantern in pitch-black conditions.)