"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. Hand Signals 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.
— Brock Samson to Hank Venture, The Venture Bros.
open/close all folders
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.
- Black Lagoon anime episode 10 "The Unstoppable Chambermaid". Revy and Roberta are in a Mexican Standoff, each with a gun to the other's head. Balalaika raises one hand in the air to signal to two of her snipers to shoot the guns out of their hands.
- Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000). Borgoff, the leader of the Marcus brothers, makes a "move forward" gesture to his men to order them to advance toward the vampire's carriage.
- 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, specifically their signed swear words, 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.
- In The End of All Things Padma Patil crosses her arms in front of her, with both sets of middle and index fingers also crossed, to indicate to her sister Parvati that she wants a closed discussion.
Films — Animated
- Toy Story:
- The Army Men and their Sergeant used them with each other repeatedly during the recon operation to find out what toys Andy was getting at his birthday party.
- Woody and the mutilated toys used them while preparing to rescue Buzz from Sid.
- In Toy Story 2, Buzz makes a "come on" gesture to the other toys several times:
- While the toys are traveling at night to rescue Woody and Buzz is scouting ahead.
- Just before the toys enter Al's Toy Barn.
- The fake Buzz does it a couple of times while leading the toys after Al.
- Mr Tortilla-Head uses baseball signals during the escape sequence in Toy Story 3.
Films — Live-Action
- In The 13th Warrior, a group of Viking warriors search a house in absolute silence while another with a bow covers them. Finding nothing, one signals "all clear" with a two-handed wave. The signal is noteworthy because the scene's total silence was a major source of tension- the Vikings expected to find a very deadly enemy in the house. The signal diffuses the tension in an equally soundless manner.
- Team America: World Police
- Gary is about to infiltrate a terrorist cell. He is asked if he remembers the signal he should give if he's in trouble, and responds by waving his arms over his head and pantomiming screaming in terror. This is apparently the correct answer.
- Later, when he does the signal, nobody in Team America recognizes his disguise, so they think he's just an asshole terrorist trying to make fun of them.
- Seth Rogen's character in The 40-Year-Old Virgin replies to the title character's description of his weekend by making a gun with one hand and firing it into the side of his head, then spreading his other hand quickly on the opposite side to indicate the resulting gore spatter. It was pretty graphic.
- Predator. Dutch and the members of his hostage rescue team use gestures to give information and instructions to each other.
- Spoofed in Johnny English: The titular secret agent and his subordinate are sneaking through a parking lot after being shot at. He doesn't want to risk giving away his position, so he tries to use hand signals to tell Baugh to move up one floor and cover that area. But due to Johnny being quite incompetent, he makes several sequences of silly gestures before he gives up and just whispers "You. Upstairs." while pointing.
- The Matrix
- As the Agents and police are entering the hotel where Trinity is, Smith makes a "come with me" signal to a patrolman standing guard.
- As the Agents and some police approach Neo's cubicle, Agent Smith gives a hand sign to the police to move down another path.
- As Morpheus and the others are climbing down the shaft inside the building's walls, Morpheus gives a "keep moving down" signal to the rest of the team.
- Resident Evil. While infiltrating the underground base, Rain uses signals to control the advance of the rest of the team and is echoed by the team leader.
- The Mask. When Dorian Tyrell's men are firing at Niko and his men in the Coco Bongo club, Tyrell orders them to stop by raising his hand in the air with fingers spread.
- The Guns of Navarone
- When the German ship commander orders Mallory to "lower your sails", Mallory gives the order to do so in Greek while making a downward gesture.
- Leutnant Muesel gives a "stop" signal to his troops when they're approaching the wedding party.
- Inside a tavern a Greek Resistance member gives one to a bartender to turn out the light.
- James Bond
- You Only Live Twice. Tiger Tanaka uses them twice with his ninja army: once he raises his arm to signal them to enter the crater and once he waves his arm to tell them to advance.
- The Spy Who Loved Me
- While the KGB team is pursuing Bond down the snow slope on skis, its leader (Major Amasova's boyfriend) makes a gesture to the others to split up.
- When Bond is holding a Stromberg crewman prisoner, he tells the crewman to call another crewman over. The first crewman calls out to the other crewman and makes a beckoning gesture.
- Moonraker. While the two scientists in Drax's laboratory are preparing the lethal nerve gas containers, one makes a "come here" gesture to the other.
- After James Bond convinces Goldfinger that he's worth keeping alive, Goldfinger makes a gesture to his henchmen to turn off the laser beam that was about to cut Bond in half.
- After Goldfinger and his men enter Fort Knox, Goldfinger gives a signal to one of the men to open the vault.
- While Oddjob is fighting Bond inside the Fort Knox vault, Bond is lying on the floor. Oddjob makes a two-handed "Get up" gesture to him.
- Live and Let Die. While Bond and Solitaire are tied to the dipping device Kananga gives a hand gesture to Whisper, commanding him to activate and move it out over the Shark Pool.
- The Fugitive
- When Gerard receives word of Kimble escaping in an ambulance, he gives a thumbs up to his helicopter pilot as a signal to start the engine.
- While Gerard is leading the other marshals through the drains, he makes a gesture indicating they should turn off and take one of the tunnels.
- Gerard makes a "shut up" signal to the other marshals when he realizes that the person calling him is Kimble.
- Cosmo makes a "stretch it out" signal to Gerard to indicate they need more time to trace Kimble's call.
- Gerard makes a gesture to the other marshals during their raid on the hotel, indicating that they need to cover the exits.
- Our Man Flint
- Rodney gives a signal to the Galaxy operatives to hook up the trailer to the safe so they can drive away with it.
- Gila gives a signal to the Italians to come out and set up their outdoor cafe on top of the Exotica Beauty company building after it sinks into the ground.
- The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Captain Nemo uses them to direct his men while invading the Fantom's factory/fortress.
- Starship Troopers. Lieutenant Rasczak uses them to the MI under his command while approaching the outpost on Planet P.
- During the preparation for the Drop Ship's departure Lieutenant Gorman gives a "thumbs up" gesture to the pilots and one to Bishop who's driving the APC.
- During the initial entry to the main complex Lieutenant Gorman orders the squads to split up and Sergeant Apone gestures to his squad to do so.
- During the infiltration of the power plant complex Apone gestures to the team before they go down the stairs.
- Raiders of the Lost Ark. While exploring the underground temple, Indy uses them to his guide Satipo when he sees that his back is covered with tarantulas. He signals to Satipo to "Come here" and "Turn around" so Indy can brush them off.
- The Sting
- Young Frankenstein has a hilarious scene where Dr. Frankenstein attempts to use charades to communicate with his assistants, since he's being strangled by the monster. One long set of hand signals later, and the two of them finally catch on. The Doctor is alive, if miffed.
- Played for laughs in Galaxy Quest; Jason gives the "wave two fingers in front of the neck" signal to Gwen, telling her to turn off the communications line with Serris after he pretends to agree to Serris' demands. After she returns the signal, he immediately tells one of the others to fire everything they have before Serris realizes he's not actually capitulating, and tells Gwen to put him back on so he can continue the charade. Unfortunately, Gwen has no idea how to operate the equipment, and as such left the connection open for Serris to hear the entire thing.
Jason: Uh, Gwen, I gave you the kill gesture.
Gwen: Yeah. No, you gave me the we're dead signal. I was agreeing with you. Like I know where the hold button is!
- Parodied in Saving Silverman by Jack Black and Steve Zahn's characters. They are preparing to sneak into the evil girlfriend's house to kidnap her. Wayne (Zahn) makes a few hand signals that J.D. (Black) doesn't understand.
Wayne: Come on man, I'm using SEAL signals.
J.D.: Lay off me, I only know the Ranger signals.
- At the beginning of Ultraviolet, the commando team leader uses the "closed fist" signal for "stop".
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail
- Arthur uses some to direct his knights after arriving at the castle with the insulting French guards.
- The chief of the Knights Who Say Ni holds up a hand to stop his fellow Knights from saying Ni to King Arthur and his party.
- The enchanter Tim holds up a hand to stop King Arthur's party as they approach the Cave of Caerbannog.
- Brother Maynard points to his assistants to signal them to retrieve the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.
- In Return of the Jedi, Luke signals R2 to prepare to launch Luke's lightsabre over right before Luke is forced to Walk the Plank.
- Free Willy. Jesse uses one of his orca training hand signals to cue Willy to jump the breakwater. Also occurs in the sequel, Free Willy 2.
- Saving Private Ryan shows Pvt. Jackson sending a very sophisticated series of hand gestures down from the bell tower to Capt. Miller during the climax, informing him of the location, number and disposition of enemy troops. During the D-Day landings, Sgt. Horvath gives a "cease fire" signal when the last of the enemy troops holding their objective have been eliminated.
- Used in Love Potion No. 9. When the female lead, Diane, gets a sample of the Love Potion no. 8, she receives the power of a Compelling Voice, of a sexual nature and working only with the opposite sex. Upon entrancing a rich mook, to avoid the potential hassles of being chased, harassed or desired by every single man at her speaking distance, she cleverly puts the mook under the assumption she just enjoys "play the mute game", that is using a simplified form of sign language while in public, and letting him graciously act as her mouthpiece
- Serenity. While the crew is exploring the planet Miranda, Zoe takes the point position. When some overhead lights come on, she holds up a hand to stop the others, then gestures for them to continue after she decides there's no danger.
- Blade Runner. At the end of the movie, when Decker is about to leave his apartment with Rachel. He holds up a hand to stop her, then a few seconds later beckons her forward.
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. After Colonel Vogel gives a "move forward" signal, a World War I era tank rolls into sight.
- Invasion of Astro-Monster. The leader of Planet X frequently uses hand gestures while speaking, which to some extent appear to convey the same meaning as his spoken words.
- Clash of the Titans (1981). Perseus uses a "stop" signal to halt the travelers just before they meet Bubo, and also gestures to the soldiers with him as they approach Medusa's lair.
- In Dobermann, the titular character's girlfriend, played by Monica Bellucci, is deaf and the two communicate solely through sign language.
- The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
- When the elevator holding the police officers opens, their leader uses a hand gesture (with a gun in his hand) to signal them to leave and then uses another gesture with his empty hand to call over the SWAT team leader waiting outside. He does this because he thinks Hannibal Lecter is hiding on the roof of the elevator listening to them.
- When the SWAT team is about to enter the elevator, the team leader makes a "pull down" gesture to the rest of the team to tell them to enter the elevator and pull open the hatch in the ceiling.
- Mars Attacks! When the Martians invade the senior citizen center where Richie's grandmother is staying, one of them silently beckons a large Disintegrator Ray device forward so it can destroy her.
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day. SWAT team leaders use them twice: to direct team movement during the infiltration of Cyberdyne, and to order that tear gas be fired at the T-800.
- The Great Race. During Professor Fate's first stunt (being pulled up into the air by an airplane), he signals Max to take off by making a flamboyant gesture and Max responds with an "O.K." gesture. As Max is approaching Professor Fate's position he gestures for Max to alter course, then gives him a wave to let him know he's going the right way.
- Spoofed in Tropic Thunder, as the group is walking through the jungle, Speedman, who still believes that they're still filming the movie, uses the "stop" gesture then proceeds to make a barrage of increasingly ridiculous hand gestures for the hidden cameras, much to the squad's confusion.
- Superman II
- During the battle in Metropolis two policeman make "keep coming" signals to an approaching ambulance.
- In the Fortress of Solitude, Zod makes a beckoning gesture to Superman after he steps out of the molecule chamber.
- Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. While Felicity Shagwell is trying to meet Austin Powers at the dance party, she uses elaborate hand (and arm) signals to tell her fellow agents to prevent Robin Spitz Swallows from approaching him.
- Star Trek: Generations. When Soren enters the Klingon ship's bridge and starts shoving the crew around, Lursa holds up her hand to signal them not to retaliate against him.
- In Black Hawk Down, a number of the Delta operators are seen using hand signals. "Hoot" uses a particularly elaborate series of signals to coordinate the attack on a technical.
- In Battle: Los Angeles Both the Marines and the aliens use hand signals.
- Played for Laughs in Mr. & Mrs. Smith when the Battle Couple use them to silently squabble with each other.
- Undercover Brother
- White She Devil uses them to give orders to her henchmen when they're all on motorcycles pursuing Undercover Brother and Sistah Girl, who are in a car.
- During the final confrontation between Undercover Brother and Mr. Feather, the antagonists make "Come over here" gestures to each other to the sound of Michael Jackson's "Beat It".
- Played straight in Navy SEALS. The characters use hand signals to communicate silently when they're on missions near enemy forces.
- Played very straight in Act of Valor. The soldiers featured are real Navy SEALS and used real tactics and gestures during the movie to boost its authenticity. Many of the scenes were conducted during official training exercises to avoid tax payers funding the movie.
- Tremors. In the first film, Rhonda escapes a Graboid by climbing up a water tower. When Valentine asks her if she's O.K., she gives him a "thumbs up".
- In Ghostbusters, Egon signals cues to Venkman when they are negotiating the prices for their services.
- Outpost: Rise of the Spetsnaz. A Soviet commando unit is waiting to ambush a German convoy. Seeing the approaching vehicles, their leader Dolokhov raises a clenched fist, then three fingers. A watching soldier translates.
"Three light vehicles..."(Dolokhov opens and closes his hand three times)"Fifteen men..."(Dolokhov draws hand across his throat)
- In The Avengers, a Chitauri squadron leader uses the "hold fire" sign then a slashing motion to allow his troops to combine their barrage on The Hulk. Unfortunately for him, that just makes The Hulk angrier.
- In Guardians of the Galaxy, the Establishing Character Moment for Drax the Destroyer has him threaten to kill Gamora, followed immediately by him misinterpreting Quill's "Cut the throat" signal.
Drax: Why would I put my finger on [Ronan's] throat?
Quill: What? (beat) No, it's a symbol, for you slicing his throat.
Drax: I will not slice his throat. I will cut his head clean off.
- The same gag is used in High School High, with the naive white teacher misinterpreting his student's throat-slashing gesture.
- Year of the Gun (1991). After receiving a phone call that Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro's convoy is on the way, a terrorist runs a hand through his hair to signal the female terrorist in charge of the kidnap team.
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. During the second train robbery, when the pursuing posse appears Butch waves his arm toward the rest of the Hole-in-the-Wall gang in a "get going" gesture.
- The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. During the infiltration of Yoyodyne, Perfect Tommy makes a "come on" signal to the rest of his team.
- In Pass the Gravy, this is how Ignatz tells his sister that they're eating Brigham, a chicken that belonged to their neighbor Schultz before they accidentally roasted it. Later, the sister and Schultz's son engage in increasingly desperate and elaborate pantomimes in a frantic effort to warn Davidson of this.
- I'm Gonna Git You Sucka. As Jack Spade and friends enter one of Mr. Big's brothels, John Slade signals to Jack and Kung Fu Joe to break into specific doors.
- In Dragon Bones a character makes a handsign used by the rebels of a past revolution to signalize his readyness to take part in another revolution. They need to use hand signals because ... well, they're at the court of the very king they want to start a revolution against.
- The Tanith of Gaunts 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.
- The Star Wars Expanded Universe has a human offshoot culture called the Lorridians. They were a human colony subjugated for centuries by an alien species who were alert for any sign of rebellion, so the enslaved humans developed a very elaborate "language" of hand signals, body postures, and movement to communicate under the noses of their oppressors. Centuries after the Lorridians kicked the invaders offworld, their unique attention to body language makes them excellent spies, diplomats, and traders. You also don't want to play them in Sabaac.
- 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.
- Earths 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.
- In one of the novels by Andrew Vachss, Private Eye Burke buys an illegal handgun using only hand signals, as a precaution against either party wearing a wire.
- The Kindar in Zilpha Keatley Snyder's Green-Sky Trilogy have a few signs, mostly for respect and reverence. Hands up with palms down means to ask forgiveness.
- In Joanne Greenberg's I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, several Yri signs are described; there's one for "turmoil and resignation" meaning the earth world, another for compliance, another for when something is funny. The sign for insanity is flattened hands pushing toward one another, unable to meet.
- Spaceship pilots in the Liaden Universe have a well-developed set of hand signals, which often allows them to pass warnings or other information among themselves without outsiders being aware of it.
- In the Erebus Sequence, Anea, as The Speechless, develops a sign language to communicate with people she knows (which is less cumbersome than restricting herself to written communication as she had previously done).
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.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Loud as a Whisper", Data learns sign language from the Enterprise computer banks to communicate with a deaf mediator when the mediator's telepathic chorus is killed in an ambush. Worf is fascinated by the idea of sign language as "communication that is both silent and covert."
- 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 I Carly, 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. The sign is normally used for a diver to signal the dive boat as it is more easily seen than a smaller hand gesture.
- 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
- In NCIS, Gibbs and Abby sometimes trade messages in sign-language when they need to communicate in secret. Gibbs learned sign language as a Marine, while Abby learned it from her deaf parents.
- UFO episodes.
- "Computer Affair". When a crew of SHADO soldiers is sent in on foot to attack a grounded UFO, the leader uses hand gestures to his troops to signal them to move forward.
- "Survival". When Paul Foster is leading some SHADO personnel in an attempt to capture a UFO on the Moon, he waves his hand to them to tell them to move up behind him.
- "Court Martial". When three SHADO security personnel are pursuing an escaping Colonel Foster, the leader holds up his hand to stop the others so they can be stationary while shooting at him.
- The Rat Patrol. During the opening titles Sergeant Troy signals his men using hand gestures: prepare to attack (a closed fist) and then to move out (fist opens up).
- Band of Brothers: During most episodes, the men of Easy Company can be seen using Standard Issue military combat sign language.
- 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).
- Midkemia Press' Heart of the Sunken Lands. The undead slaves of the People of the Pit can't speak because they have no heads. They communicate with their masters by using hand signals instead.
- 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. Savvy players will notice that, in higher difficulties where the troops operate with more realistic tactics, the gestures actually indicate what they're going to do next, letting the player anticipate or track their movement.
- Day of Defeat has stock phrases in voice (which good bots understand) doubled in silent signals.
- Endless Ocean often makes use of the "OK" signal often used in real scuba diving.
- Characters in Menage A 3 are quite prone to using hand signals, albeit often as much as signs to the readers of their reactions to events as attempts to communicate with each other. Many of the specific signs they use come from Japanese anime or manga, which are a subtle but pervasive influence in this comic; they act as a sort of cultural Bilingual Bonus to readers who are familiar with that material.
- In strip #0242 of Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic they demonstrate that quite a lot can be got across with a few gestures.
- 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?Hank: No...//
- 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 an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Shake tunrs up the volume on the T.V. so Frylock can't hear Meatwad tell him that Shakes wants them to leave, so he points instead. The pointing is translated in subtitles as "I think he wants us to leave the room." Frylock then uses even more obscure gestures to tell Shake "Alright, but I would like to hear of your incredible journey soon." Shakes responds by flipping them off, which translates into "Yes, I would be glad to dicuss it tommorow morning."
- 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 held vertical and still, the other horizontal with fingers together in a "mouth" shape. "Mouth" hand moving away from vertical hand: You're too close to the mike. Towards it: You're too far away, get closer.
- 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 WW1 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. Other signs can be used to give basic orders.
- 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.)