Various enterprises and personal interests, such as Man-Machine Interaction (MMI), gesture studies, signs, language, social robotics, healthcare, innovation, music, publications, etc.

The Perception of Insults

Am I being insulted or not? Did you ever wonder whether someone was making a rude gesture at you? But it could also be nothing, just a coincidence?

I think such situations can easily occur. People can camouflage their insults, for example by scratching their arm while giving an Italian salute (forbidden in Malta I heard?). This can be used to hide to insult from certain onlookers and to avoid repercussions. You just say you didn’t do anything. On the other hand, people may be too sensitive, taking offense when none was intended.

Is this cactus giving the finger? (source

In Riverton, Utah (USA) a painting on the side of a house looked like a hand giving the finger but it could also be an abstract cactus. Is this a camouflaged insult or a case of extreme sensitivity? Perhaps even both. Because his neighbours are so sensitive, mr. Wood effectively manages to insult them and deny it to anyone else. (Update 24-08: After enormous media attention the rude cactus is now going away)

Is that a cactus?

In remote village Crow Edge (UK) an old man sitting outside with his injured finger in a bandage was suspected of obscene body language by his neighbours. It took a policeman to settle the matter. It has the smell of smalltown feuds all over it. Though it appears a clear matter of over-sensitivity at first sight, the old man may have taken advantage of his injury. Perhaps he did give his neighbours the finger in such a way that they would understand it. I will never know.

India coach Greg Chappell allegedly gave the finger to angry fans in 2005. The Hindustan Times showed a picture of his finger thrust out of the window of the team bus. But a team spokesman said Chappell had injured his finger during practice and he was just attending to it. He did not gesture at anybody.

When I was 16 a friend of mine (Maurits) thought he would be safe when he gave our history teacher the finger and said ‘look I have a band-aid’. He was wrong. The teacher was not amused.

Note: these mistakes between insults and unintentional movements are in my view very different from cross-cultural gesture mix-up stories (where the same gesture has different meanings in different cultures). The question now is whether there is an intention to communicate or not (and not what the message is).


Xbox 360 Gesture Game TotemBall


Thousand-hand Guanyin dance

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    What I haved used for most of my life was the “two finger” insult. Instead of just the middle finger, it is the middle and index fingers extended horizontally and the index finger angled upward. The meaning is F you and the horse you rode in on.

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