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Hand Signals

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STOP RIGHT THERE. She means it.
"You have no idea what that means, do you? You're just having fun with your hands, aren't ya..."
Brock Samson to Hank Venture, The Venture Bros.

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. Sign languages are perhaps the perfect example, allowing deaf (and mute, etc.) 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. Nor does it have anything to do with Hand Seals; despite the name similarities, the latter is a form of Magical Gesture. A sufficiently developed set of Hand Signals may evolve into Talking through Technique or an actual Signed Language.


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    Anime & 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.
  • Lelouch uses one of these with Suzaku in episode 6 of Code Geass - pulling his collar means "meet me on the roof", and Suzaku remembers it after seven years apart. In the audio dramas, they talk about how when they were kids, Lelouch came up with a whole language of these, to communicate secretly with Suzaku. But Suzaku couldn't remember them all, so Lelouch simplified it.
  • 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 Make Me Wanna Shout.
  • Stella Women’s Academy, High School Division Class Cł 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.
  • Used in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders when the heroes are preparing to dive; Joseph explains how to communicate underwater by hand signals, when Polnareff shows a hand signal of his own... which Kakyoin casually (and correctly) interprets as "your panties are showing".
  • Assassination Classroom has a brief moment during the island arc where Ms. Jelavić uses her skills as a social manipulator to distract some guards with piano playing that amazes everyone present, including the students. When the guards are sufficiently distracted, she makes subtle hand gestures to signal them to move on. Justified, since Mr. Karasuma offhandedly mentions earlier that he drilled the class on hand signals during PE.
    Ms. Jelavić (via signalling): I just bought you your twenty minutes. Get moving.
  • Dungeon Friends Forever: Ryuuka and Van have their own sign language they can use to talk to one another that's developed enough to have an entire conversation without either speaking a word out loud.

    Asian Animation 
  • Mechamato: When Mara and Pian are held hostage under Paintasso's arms, MechaBot converses with the latter to distract him while Mara gestures to Amato her idea to defeat Paintasso. Pian comically misses the point and plays around with hand signals of his own.

    Fan Works 
  • 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 Hollow Knight/Undertale crossover fan webcomic Hollowtale, when Sans and Papyrus discover that the Knight is The Speechless, they decide to teach them MoSL (Monster Sign Language). This allows them to communicate with hand gestures (with a translation provided in boxes, unless the others are Repeating So the Audience Can Hear).
  • 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 Project 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.
  • In Escribamens Draco and his mother have a special code involving hand gestures and placement.
  • A.A. Pessimal explores the canonical information that the Guild of Assassins, in the Discworld, uses silent hand-signals to communicate information and has, over the years, developed this into a sophisticated language. Wondering exactly how this was done and what form it would take, Pessimal speculated on a situation where the Guild was forced, by Vetinari, to take in a quota of differently abled students. And discovered being completely deaf from birth is no block to a determined person succeeding in the Profession - who points out the existing signalling system was, from her point of view, rather crude and makeshift. She then revolutionises "non-verbal communication" and makes it her own Guild specialism.
    • In The Price of Flight and elsewhere, a young novice Air Witch, recruited to the City Air Watch, looks down from above at the ground staff, all Dwarfs, who will run out into the landing circle and perform what looks like a complicated random ballet with coloured ping-pong bats. She speculates this might be some powerful magic leaking into the Discworld from Somewhere Else. note 
  • Service with a Smile: When Adam and Blake see each other for the first time in months, they use the hand signals that the White Fang uses during missions, so as to not alert Blake's team. Of course, these hand signals were designed for combat missions and nothing else; it takes a great deal of effort for Adam to even communicate the concept of "I'm not here to fight."
  • In the Firefly fic Neither Wit nor Words nor Wisdom, Jayne goes nearly deaf after an explosion. He finally breaks down and learns some signs from Simon and Zoe later pressures Mal into learning some for silent communication on jobs.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Asterix in Britain, the Roman invasion fleet is being coordinated by a centurion using hand flags. Just then a seagull lands on his helmet. His frantic efforts to brush it off inadvertently signal the catapults to open fire on their own ships.
  • Toy Story:
    • The Army Men and their Sergeant used them with each other repeatedly during the recon operation in the first film 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.
  • During the "preparing the Backson trap" montage in Winnie the Pooh (2011), Rabbit surfaces from some water and makes a variety of weird hand signals to Pooh and Piglet to communicate a plan. Neither of them understand, so they just wave to him. Cue Facepalm from Rabbit.
  • Wreck-It Ralph: As the arcade closes, Calhoun hears what she thinks is a Cy-Bug and raises a fist in the military "Hold" signal to alert her soldiers chatting behind her.
  • In Zootopia, when Nick and Judy are preparing to sneak into the abandoned Cliffside Hospital, Nick makes a series of convoluted hand signals that don't mean anything to Judy (or the audience) before going in first.

    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. While traveling through the jungle and in combat, Dutch uses gestures (along with an occasional whistle) in lieu of speech to give information and instructions to the members of his hostage rescue team.
  • 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 (2002). 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" hand signal to his troops when they're approaching the wedding party.
    • Inside a tavern, a Greek Resistance member gives a hand signal 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.
    • Goldfinger
      • 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
    • Deputy U.S. Marshall Samuel Gerard
      • 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.
      • Gerard makes a gesture to the other marshals during their raid on the hotel, indicating that they need to cover the exits.
    • Deputy U.S. Marshal Cosmo makes a "stretch it out" signal to Gerard to indicate they need more time to trace Kimble's call.
  • Get Smart: Max uses pantomime hand gestures to signal to 99 that he's going to use the fire hose as a diversion, but 99 doesn't get what he's doing and he has to whisper to her what he's miming.
  • 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.
  • Aliens
    • 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.
    • And made the subject of a joke when Newt also gives a deadpan thumbs up to Ripley upon being asked if she's all right following a Xenomorph battle.
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark. While exploring the underground temple, Indy instructs his guide Satipo using hands isgnals 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
    • The Con Man recognition signal (brushing the nose with a finger).
    • When Snyder enters the Con Artist bar and someone knocks on the door, Dukie puts up his hand in a "stop" sign to Kid Twist.
  • 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 (2006), 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 Number Nine. 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. 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 (2005) 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 (1984), Egon signals cues to Venkman when they are negotiating the prices for their services in capturing Slimer at the Sedgewick Hotel.
  • 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)
    "Kill them all."
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe
    • 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 (2014), 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.
    • In Avengers: Infinity War, Quill signals his team to stop by holding his closed fist. They unanimously ignore him and continue advancing, to Quill's utter confusion.
    • In Avengers: Endgame, when Thanos has the Gauntlet and all the Infinity Sones, Tony looks at Doctor Strange, who closes his hand so that he is making a "1" gesture to Tony with his finger, motioning that this is the one timeline where they succeed, while giving Tony a Meaningful Look. Tony then gets motivated to take the Stones from Thanos and snap his fingers to wipe out Thanos and his forces.
    • Makkari from Eternals is deaf and uses American Sign Language to communicate with people. Her teammates occasionally sign back to her but for the most part she gets by with lip reading and "sensing the vibrations" when they talk.
  • The throat 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.
  • Four Weddings and a Funeral: Charlie converses with his deaf brother David in sign language. This lets them make derogatory and inappropriate remarks about others without others knowing.
  • Johnny Belinda: Belinda is taught sign language by Dr. Loomis, and thereafter communicates with it.
  • The Shape of Water: Elisa communicates entirely in American Sign Language due to being mute, or with some improvised gestures once (for explaining the Amphibian Man's genitalia). Giles and Zelda can understand it; they translate for others if necessary.
  • Listen to Your Heart: Ariana uses American Sign Language to communicate most of the time, speaking only rarely. Marianne is her translator, though Ariana dislikes having to rely on that. Danny learns ASL too to better communicate with her.
  • CODA (2021): At least half the film dialogue is in American Sign Language, due to much of the cast being Deaf. Ruby, who is the titular CODA (child of deaf adults) also knows ASL fluently, translating for her parents and brother, who are Deaf.
  • Dune (2021): Used by Lady Jessica when she wants to communicate covertly to her son Paul, or her personal bodyguard.
  • The Quiet: Dot is deaf-mute, so she mostly communicates by using American Sign Language. The school lunch lady also knows ASL as her son is deaf, and speaks to Dot using it. However, it turns out that Dot is able to hear and speak, having learned this as her father was deaf.
  • Thief: Okla's lawyer nonverbally haggles with the judge in open court about the size of the bribe he'll pay him. While making his argument, the lawyer holds his chin in his hands and lays four fingers across his face. The judge lays six fingers across his own face while responding, and Okla's lawyer matches him, agreeing on the amount.

  • Backfired hilariously in this knee-slapper: Two construction workers are fixing a building, one on the rooftop and the other welding steel on ground level. Just then, the one on top realized he forgot his handsaw, and so shouts for the other to bring him one as he lowers a pulley basket. Unfortunately, the worker on ground level couldn't hear him over the welding.
    The one on top then decides to motion with hand gestures; firstly by pointing his eye ("I"), and then his knee, ("need"), before making a 1 signal and a sawing motion with his hands ("a handsaw").
    The second worker seems to get it, so he... proceeds to pull down his pants and publicly jerk off, to the shock of the first worker. Who then got off and run three storeys down.
    "What do you think you're doing?" the first worker angrily hollers as he reached ground, panting. "I'm telling you, I need a handsaw, I need a handsaw, what's the hell is wrong with you?"
    "I know." the second worker pulls his pants up. "And I'm trying to let you know, I'm coming!"

  • Hurog: In Dragon Bones, a character makes a handsign used by the rebels of a past revolution to signal his readiness 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.
  • Dark Life: The subsea pioneers known sign language, given that is hard to speak when you have your lungs filled with Liquigen. Their children even learn it before they speak.
  • The Famous Five: In Five go off in a Caravan, Nobby is surprised to see Julian on the roof of one of the caravans. Julian frantically gestures to him to stay away, but Nobby does not understand, and climbs a hill to meet him, stepping right on top the sleeping villains Lou and Dan (on whom Julian had been spying).
  • Warhammer 40,000 Expanded Universe:
    • 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 from Ciaphas Cain 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 in which 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.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • There is 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 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:
    • The Seanchan Empress 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.
  • 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.
  • In one of the Burke novels by Andrew Vachss, Private Detective 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).
  • In the Bas-Lag Cycle, Quiesy can be "spoken" partly or entirely through hand and eye signals, on account of being the language of The Undead of High Cromlech, many of whom have their mouths stitched shut.
  • West of Eden: Kerrick is a human child captured as a boy and raised as a Human Pet and translator by the reptilian Yilanè, who communicate through a combination of voice and changes in skin color. Because Kerrick can't do the latter, he's taught a sign language used by the Yilanè for communication in low visibility conditions.
  • In Our Bloody Pearl, the main character is a siren who understands human language, but the humans don't understand sirens. They develop hand signals to communicate.
  • Genocidal Organ: A special forces team communicate this way despite their hands being covered in the nanotech-camoflage that makes them blend into their surroundings. However they also have software that enables their eyes to pick out the movement from their surroundings; what's used to detect an enemy waiting in ambush can also be used to see each other.
  • Domina: Mention is made of "kemo battle sign," a simplified sign language that the kemos designed for use in combat. It is possible to use it for full conversations, but it's not great for that purpose. The primary reason people use it outside of combat is that it doesn't have very many complicated finger motions, which is great since not everyone in the city (and especially not kemos) has the same number of fingers. An angel sign language is also mentioned, but it has more complex finger motions.
  • Aleya of Watchers of the Throne is a Sister of Silence, meaning she is sworn to be The Voiceless. She communicates with others, including her fellow Sisters, through a Signed Language called Thoughtmark.
  • The tongueless "squires" who serve the villain Nicodemus from The Dresden Files use this trope for rapid communication, although they use written notes when they have time or if detailed commentary is called for.
  • The White Bone: As the elephants search for the missing calf Date Bed, a cheetah named Me-Me approaches with the smell of Date Bed's dung on her paw. There are no mind talkers available to communicate with her, so instead She-Screams launches into an elaborate series of noises and gestures to offer her She-Snorts' unborn calf in exchange for helping them find Date Bed.
  • Split Heirs: One spell Wulfrith learns uses sign language to command a fire elemental.
  • Into the Drowning Deep: How Heather and Hollie, the Wilson twins, communicate as they were both born deaf. Their older sister Hallie Wilson often acts as their interpreter, a sort of liaison between them and other people. She’ll also sign for them when someone else is speaking such as on a podium or stage. They don’t necessarily need her for face-to-face interactions. The sirens also have their own form of sign language. A live siren specimen, after having being captured, begins a rudimentary exchange of signs with a character so the two species can open the beginnings of a line of communication.
  • The Chronicles of Dorsa: Imperial soldiers use this when speaking would give them away.
  • Humanx Commonwealth: The Thranx Insectoid Aliens supplement their spoken language with a complex system of hand gestures to convey emotional reactions. Humans can learn it, but are limited in their gestures by being short one set of hands and one joint on their limbs.

    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.

  • Accused (2023): "Ava's Story" focuses on deaf people heavily, so much of the dialogue occurs in ASL.
  • Andor: On day 1 of Cassian's prison sentence, he notices a fellow prisoner a few places up in the queue silently communicating with hand gestures to an inmate from a different room, who gestures back. It doesn't seem to be a full sign language as communicating complex things seems to be quite difficult and leave room for interpretation.
  • Band of Brothers: During most episodes, the men of Easy Company can be seen using Standard Issue military combat sign language.
  • In Best Love, Dokko Jin gives Ae Jung's nephew a secret hand signal so he could have some alone time with her.
  • The Boys (2019): In Season 2, Kimiko speaks with her brother Kenji using sign language they invented after she became mute as a result of her trauma.
  • 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.
  • Canada's Worst Driver: While they normally have walkie-talkies in the cars to communicate with the bad drivers, in recent seasons Andrew has supplemented this with a hand signal — both arms over his head to form a circle means "course is clear, start your test run". Using the hand signal also means the bad drivers aren't juggling walkie-talkie and steering wheel when they start driving.
  • The Company You Keep: The Nicoletti family all know sign language due to Olivia, Birdie's daughter, being deaf, speaking with her using it.
  • Doctor Who
    • "Partners in Crime" has a glorious scene 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, 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.
    • In "Warrior's Gate", when the Villains Of The Week come to investigate the TARDIS, Romana tells Adric not to come out if she gives the danger signal...then mimes putting her hands up. She chooses to go with them voluntarily but is still suspicious, so she makes a stretching gesture that includes the signal.
  • 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.
  • 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 
  • And in iCarly, the "count down from 5 with silent "1" and pointing for "on" is Freddie's catchphrase.
  • 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.
  • Judge John Deed: In "Above the Law", the defendants make threatening gestures at the jury, and are spotted by the judge.
  • The L Word: Jodi is deaf and speaks using ASL. Bette learned this language, too, so she could communicate with Jodi, after they become a couple. We are also treated to a silent shouting match between Jodi and her ex which culminated in a sign that required no proficiency in a sign language to understand, and a little bit of actual shouting which included dual f-bombs.
  • The Mandalorian: Mando communicates with the Tuskens partly in sign language.
  • In Murphy Brown, Miles often uses the "stretch" and "speed up" signals used by television directors.
  • MythBusters:
    • 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 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • The Society: Very common due to Sam being deaf, and a majority of those around him taking steps to learn the basics of ASL. Becca is fluent and acts as his unofficial interpreter. Grizz is also learning, though initially he tries British Sign Language because he doesn't realize it's a different language.
  • 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?"
    • Also shows up in Stargate Atlantis under much the same circumstances. For example, during one confrontation with the Wraith, MacKay witnesses a group of marines using hand signals to communicate. Signals which MacKay fails to understand.
  • Star Trek:
    • 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."
  • 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.
  • Switched at Birth has several deaf ASL speakers among the main cast and did an entire episode in sign language.
  • Treadstone. Matt Edwards is surrounded by a CIA Alpha team with orders to terminate him, but claims someone is covering him with an AR15 rifle. When they demand proof of this, he raises a finger and a couple of shots ring out, a second finger beings two more, then a clenched fist for cease fire.
  • UFO (1970):
    • In "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.
    • In "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.
    • In "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.
  • In The Unit, hand signals are seen from time to time; a good example is the first episode of Season 4.
  • 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.
  • The Wheel of Time (2021): Aviendha and her fellow Maidens of the Spear (Aiel warrior women) communicating using sign language along with verbal speech. It's clearly something which is useful when moving silently to keep enemies unaware of them.
  • You (2018): Love's husband James was deaf, and spoke to her solely in American Sign Language. They had some bilingual dialogue with her signing back in ASL and speaking aloud, since he could read her lips.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons.
    • The drow have a language of hand signs in their original appearance.
    • Forgotten Realms: A sourcebook on the Harpers mentions their own "silent code" of gestures and expressions. High Drow (an archaic dialect used mostly in sacred texts and secret talks between priestesses) is said to have its own hand sign system.
    • 1st Edition has alignment languages, which include special signals and gestures.
    • With the language-learning rules being quite generous, it's not unusual for a group of third edition PCs to all learn one of these obscure sign languages, for secret intra-group communication.
  • GURPS Fantasy II: The Madlanders have a set of hand signs that they use to communicate with each other while hunting.
  • 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.
  • Neverwhere: Sewer Folk use Handsign (hand signals, mime and touch) to communicate with each other.
  • In Nomine: In Superiors I: War and Honor, Dominic's angels can communicate with each other using finger/hand codes, which they use when interrogating other angels so as not to tip off the suspect.
  • Mus: This game permits giving subtle hand or gesture signals to the partner, which may be spotted by the rival players. Under tournament play, these signals must be truthful, and are restricted to a certain set of hand contents.
  • Paranoia
    • 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).
  • 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 Leading Ladies, Jack and Leo are impersonating a pair of lost heirs. When they learn that "Steve" is deaf and dumb, they arrange on a pantomime version of signed language. When Jack rightfully points out that this is not how a proper sign language works, Leo tells him that they'll just claim they created their own.

    Video Games 
  • 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.


    Web Original 
  • In Season 12 of Red vs. Blue, Simmons (being animated in motion capture) does tons of vague hand signals to Grif, which includes waving his arm and snapping his fingers three times.
    Grif: At what point did you think I knew what that meant?
  • TomSka has a whole sketch of pretty much just this.
  • The Lambsbridge Gang in Twig, a Secret Project Refugee Family, developed a series of secret hand signals to communicate under the noses of their creators and coordinate over distances or when being observed by enemies. It's not quite a Signed Language due to being heavily context-sensitive and lacking real grammar rules, but it is very sophisticated.

    Western Animation 
  • South Park: When the boys are playing detective, Cartman uses (made-up) military sign language to communicate with Kyle, but Kyle 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 (2003) 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.
  • The Venture Bros.:
    • Played with and Lampshaded:
      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."
  • Kaeloo:
    • This is Eugly's method of communication besides indistinct mumbles.
    • In "Let's Play Cops and Robbers", Quack Quack tries to communicate with Stumpy in this way, resulting in an Overly-Long Gag where Stumpy tries to figure out what he's trying to say.
  • Wacky Races: A gag in one episode featured all the other racers backed up behind Penelope Pitstop, unable to pass her because she was giving the hand signal for a left turn. She was actually trying to get her nail polish to dry.

    Real Life 
  • 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. These are also used in law enforcement agencies and to an extent, with paramilitary formations.
  • 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.
    • Ice hockey refs use very similar signals for penalties, and in professional leagues just as often have wireless mics. Another set of signals are the goal/no-goal/puck frozen gestures that either encourage players to continue play or stop immediately when the puck is near the net. They also sometimes have to point to the appropriate faceoff dot for players to line up at if the circumstances of the stoppage were ambiguous.
  • 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". Recreational divers also use a number of hand gestures to alert fellow divers to the presence of interesting marine life.
  • 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.)


Hand gestures before talking

Grete and Sibylla use hand signals to speak to each other about the situation in the mansion since they're undercover.

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Main / HandSignals

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