A Nice Gesture by Jeroen Arendsen

A Nice Gesture by Jeroen Arendsen

A mix of posts on gesture, HCI, perception or robots and some personal information.

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The Butthole is not OK

There is a story about how Americans gesture ‘OK’ in Brazil which is mistaken for an obscenity, see also in this column: Are You Rude? Four Accidental Goofs, which features many classic gesture mix-up stories.

I find it hard to believe, and I never hear first-hand evidence of actual misunderstandings. I think people easily exaggerate or dramatize these ‘funny gesture stories’. For the Brazilian ‘butthole’ gesture the orientation of the hand (supinated to show the ring in front) is clearly important. But I guess that if you want to misread someone, you may grab your chances with it. And, of course, if you’re a sloppy ‘OK’ signer, like these two, it will happen without a doubt.

I checked it with a Brazilian colleague here at the University. She said it can happen if people don’t know anything about Americans, and if they want to see it that way. The way it is held (supinated) is definately required. A similar opinion is held by this American expat here.

To add more subtlety: Adam Kendon (2004, Gesture) wrote an entire section about a family of gestures which use the same ‘ring’ hand shape, none of which are obscene. They are considered ‘precision grip’ gestures. Most refer in some way to exactness, as in ‘just right’, ‘perfecto’, or ‘pay precise attention now’. Differences in orientation or accompanying movement separate the different uses.

Update: There is a reward out for evidence of a real misunderstaning.

5 Responses to “The Butthole is not OK”

  1. 1
    Jeroen Arendsen:

    Here’s an additional list of Brazilian gestures. It explicitly mentions the OK-Butthole as follows: “I made the mistake of making this to my Brazilian mother-in-law when trying to tell her how good her cooking was. Thankfully she either didn’t notice or brushed it off as a typical Gringo-ism!” Please notice the not noticing.

  2. 2
    Jeroen Arendsen:

    And here’s a couple of gringos in a movie trying to explain it.

  3. 3
    Jeroen Arendsen:

    Yet another bunch of gesture mix-up stories featuring ‘The Ring’. This time by a guy who makes a living selling his lecture about it to anyone interested. When, oh when can we see or hear a truely trustworthy case?

  4. 4
    Joris:

    I actually experienced this difference quite often on my trip to Brasil this summer. Had to really remember not to use the hand gesture.

  5. 5
    Virus92ita:

    In Italy that gesture sign, held like that, would be intrepreted as a hole too, not necessarely the butthole, but if so it would stand for a tight one.
    Just to write two lines.

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