The Corner

Re: The Perp Thumb

A reader narrows it down: “Mr. D.—I vaguely remember seeing Clinton,

early on, doing the ‘perp thumb’ but with the thump protruding from between

the index and and middle fingers when he was annoyed or worked up about

something. It seemed even more obviously a deportment coach’s way of

subduing an angry, aggressive pointing gesture.”

I recall reading some years ago that hand gestures are highly

culture-specific, so that what is a cheery greeting in Albuquerque will get

you killed in Addis Ababa. If this is right, there must be some culture

somewhere in which all this thumb display is grossly insulting. (If the

thumb is tucked between first and second finger, in fact, you are not far

from a south-European gesture signifying “go pleasure yourself.”) If there

is indeed such a culture, could we hear from it please? Where are the

multiculturalists when you need them?

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