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Hand Rubbing

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"The best thing about alcohol hand gel in hospitals isn't the hygiene, but that everyone walks around like they're hatching a dastardly plan."
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Hand Rubbing is the act of rubbing the palms of your hands together. The friction of the gesture can be used to provide heat in a cold environment, or it can simply convey excitation or expectation. The Other Wiki has a whole article on the subject, but here, we will focus on rubbing hands as a trope.

There is an eerie specificity in fiction to reserve this gesture for Smug Snake type villains. Used car salesmen, lower-end Corrupt Corporate Executives and the Dastardly Whiplash will gleefully rub their hands when things are going their way, but a true Magnificent Bastard always opts to clasp his hands instead. In a bygone age, it was also the signature habit of the Greedy Jew. Even when otherwise positive characters do this, there's nearly always a sinister undercurrent - unless, for some reason, they are a watchmaker. In Japanese productions, this is usually the sign of a Professional Butt-Kisser.


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    Comic Books 
  • Asterix villain Tullius Destructivus (in English, Tortuous Convolvulus), pictured at right, has a habit of this.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (2020): In the Affectionate Parody of He-Man that is Prince of Power's origin story, Betrayo (Rapskullion's least snivelling henchman!) is so busy rubbing his hands evilly while saying he would never betray his boss that Prince Noblor is able to recover his sword.
  • A variation of this occurs at the end of The Thing: Northman Nightmare. After dealing with and killing the titular shapeshifting alien, the two surviving Vikings sit around a fire to wait for another supply run in several months. The Vikings' leader, Rodmar, notices Hord rubbing his hands together as he comments wondering what the next group of Vikings will find when they get there. Thing is, Hord's hand was cut off at the start of the comic—he's been infected by the Thing.

    Comic Strips 
  • Garfield had a strip where Odie is plotting something, as evidenced by rubbing his hands together. Garfield then clarifies that he's plotting to rub his hands together.

    Fan Works 
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink Child of the Storm has a rare non-villain example of Joshua (who's the embodiment of the exact opposite of every trope usually associated with it) doing this when getting to work - though it's more of clapping his hands together and flexing his fingers. The impression when you have an unassuming Nice Guy in battered workman's jeans and nondescript T-shirt flexing out their fingers to start is more of a craftsman enjoying his work an anticipating the joy of making a particularily good piece, though. So although he's a carpenter and not a watchmaker, he gets the watchmakers' pass on the trope.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Corpse Bride, after Barkis and Victoria are pronounced married, he rubs his hands together in satisfaction.
  • In Megamind, there is a large crowd of children clapping in the finale. One of them is rubbing his hands, trying to be like the titular hero.
  • In Turning Red, Abby does this when Miriam suggests claiming that they are having a sleepover at Miriam's house as cover for going to the 4*Town concert.
    Abby: The perfect crime.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Adele Hasn't Had Her Dinner Yet, two sinister characters are seen rubbing their hands.
    • An unnamed Depraved Dwarf, the Gardener's minion, rubs his hands when Nick Carter (The Ace of a Great Detective) brings Adele, a mysterious plant to his hotel room, and he's pleased that he can get it back for their boss. He also rubs his hands when he moved a carpet and made police commissioner Ledvina fall down. It's always accompanied by hilariously ominous giggling.
    • The Gardener rubs his hands when his final revenge has just started. One of his mortal enemies is about to get eaten by Adele, the carnivorous plant from the title.
  • In Lemonade Joe, or Horse Opera, gunman Grimpo rubs his hands when he and his "kids" Coyote Kid and Pancho Kid are going to torture Lemonade Joe. Fortunately for Joe, Cold-Blooded Torture gets spoofed as any other trope in this movie, so he only gets his clothes destroyed and he gets mighty dirty, however, he really looks like he suffers a lot.
  • In Matilda, Harry Wormwood rubs his hands together as he thinks of the money he plans to make from his used car business.
    Harry: There's a sucker born every minute. We need to take him for all he's got.
  • In Safety Last! Harold Lloyd is in a jewelry shop, fretting over a selection of engagement rings under the watchful eye of a Jewish jeweler, who is rubbing his hands together. Distressed by his indecision, Lloyd absent-mindedly starts to mimic the shop-owner's hand rubbing.
  • Where Now Are the Dreams of Youth?: Tetsuo, a college student who has suddenly been put in charge of the family corporation after his father's out-of-nowhere death, arrives at the office for his first day. One of his underlings bows and then starts rubbing his hands together in an unsettling manner while talking. Tetsuo sees this, grabs the man's hand, looks at it curiously, and then shakes it.

  • The Trope Codifier is almost certainly Uriah Heep in David Copperfield.
  • Horatio Hornblower: Bush is rubbing his hands together when he's pleased, but he's not obsequious or sinister like the other examples here—it's just a Character Tic.
  • It's also a character tic of Nathaniel Polton, the lab technician in the Dr. Thorndyke books, who is a reliable associate of the medical detective. This gets referenced in one of the Tommy and Tuppence stories, where Tuppence says that if Tommy is going to pretend to be Thorndyke for a case, that makes her Polton and, when challenged if she could do any of the things Polton does, replies "I can rub my hands together when I'm pleased. That's quite enough to be getting along with."

    Live-Action TV 
  • Sheldon does this in The Big Bang Theory episode "The Raiders Minimization" while plotting his revenge against Amy for ruining his favourite movie. When Amy sees him doing this and inquires about it, he passes it off as 'applying moisturiser'.
  • The Goodies. In the Haunted House episode, there's a clock that strikes by having a pair of White Gloves appear and strike a handheld gong. Later when the Goodies are terrified by all the scary things going on, the gloves reappear and start rubbing together in satisfaction, followed by a thumbs up.


  • This is the trademark pose of rapper Birdman, as seen in several of his music videos.

    Video Games 
  • Ace Attorney
    • Frank Sahwit's default sprite has him pulling this constantly. Given the Reverse Whodunnit nature of the case involving him, it's just one of the many features that show he's the bad guy.
    • Colias Palaeno from the last case of Ace Attorney Investigations also does this constantly. Combined with his overly chipper attitude, it seems like a clue that he's hidding something... but nope, he's entirely genuine and one of the most helpful secondary characters in the entire series.
  • In DC Universe Online, as the base of operations for players are released, there is a special message for villains.
    Calculator: It occurred to me that you're lacking one of the best parts about being a villain. The evil hideout. I mean, what kind of villain are you if you don't have a place to rub your hands maniacally and make with the evil plotting?
  • Dr. Fred, the Mad Scientist from Day of the Tentacle, has a sprite whose static animation consists of this.
    • Although in Fred's case, there's nothing particularly sinister about it-he's just jittery from the permanent caffeine high he submits himself to so as to avoid sleepwalking (by avoiding sleeping).
  • In Final Fantasy XIV, the "Wring Hands" emote has the player character leer at the person in front of them while wringing their hands, clearly expecting some kind of payment or rewards. It's also used by several merchant NPCs throughout the story.
  • This is one of Tali's Character Tics in Mass Effect 2. If you watch her closely during her trial, you'll notice she is nervously twisting her hands and fingers together. If romanced, she almost does this during the final romance scene, but consciously restrains herself from doing so.
  • Persona 5 has Junya Kaneshiro, the third target of the Phantom Thieves, a money-grubbing mobster who represents the sin of Gluttony and Conspicuous Consumption. In his boss fight he becomes a humanoid fly as a Visual Gag for how flies are known to rub their forelegs together.
  • This is a habit of the CIA mole in Splinter Cell due to having OCD.

    Web Comics 
  • Girl Genius: ...and suddenly the captain is rubbing his hands together and affirming that "We're not pirates. He didn't count."
  • In El Goonish Shive, Ellen does it here as she thinks about her plan for getting Elliot in trouble.

    Web Original 
  • The Happy Merchant is an anti-Semitic Jewish caricature portrayed doing this pose.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • Looney Tunes: Combined with the requisite Evil Laugh, this was a staple for avaricious or scheming characters throughout the classic shorts including but not limited to Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Wile E Coyote, Elmer Fudd and a slew of one-off characters
  • Mr. Burns does this on occasion in The Simpsons. Word of God is that this is supposed to be like a praying mantis.
  • Superfriends 1973/74 season episodes.
    • "The Androids". Dr. Rebos rubs his hands together after he captures Superman using artificial kryptonite.
    • "The Balloon People". Dr. Noah Tall rubs his hands together when he thinks he's about to capture the title characters.
  • Total Drama:
    • Chris rubs his hands in anticipation in "Ocean's Eight - Or Nine" when he explains that the contestants have to commit a movie-perfect bank robbery.
    • During a confessional in "Broadway, Baby!", Heather notes that she'll stay on the team either if she proves her worth or manipulates Sierra and Cody into slavishly obeying her. She rubs her hands gleefully while considering the second option.
    • Max puts his palms together and hunches a little in "A Blast From the Past" when the idea hits him to sabotage the dueling sticks of the other team. It draws Chris's attention and prompts him to specify that messing with the other team's sticks results in the challenge automatically being lost.
  • Phantom Limb attempts to perform this gesture in The Venture Brothers. The effect is diminished somewhat by the fact that his arms and hands are invisible.
  • MAD has an entire sketch based on this trope, revealing that the villains that do this are merely using hand sanitizer.
  • Count Duckula does this when he thinks one of his Zany Schemes is going well.

     Real Life 
  • Flies are often known to do this.


Video Example(s):


Captured by Pirates

Betty Boop, Bimbo and Koko the Clown are captured by pirates.

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