Wave (gesture)

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Richard Nixon waving Richard Nixon waves in presidential limousine.jpg
Richard Nixon waving

A wave is a nonverbal communication gesture that consists of the movement of the hand and/or entire arm that people commonly use to greet each other, but it can also be used to say goodbye, acknowledge another's presence, call for silence, or deny someone. [1] The different ways that humans communicate with one another are plentiful, but the wave gesture is one of the clearest examples of how researchers get a better understanding of how they are essential part to language and thought. [2]

Nonverbal communication Process of communication through sending and receiving wordless (mostly visual) cues between people

Nonverbal communication (NVC) is the nonlinguistic transmission of information through visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic (physical) channels.

Hand extremity at the end of an arm or forelimb

A hand is a prehensile, multi-fingered appendage located at the end of the forearm or forelimb of primates such as humans, chimpanzees, monkeys, and lemurs. A few other vertebrates such as the koala are often described as having "hands" instead of paws on their front limbs. The raccoon is usually described as having "hands" though opposable thumbs are lacking.

Greeting Expression to acknowledge another person

Greeting is an act of communication in which human beings intentionally make their presence known to each other, to show attention to, and to suggest a type of relationship or social status between individuals or groups of people coming in contact with each other. Greetings are sometimes used just prior to a conversation or to greet in passing, such as on a sidewalk or trail. While greeting customs are highly culture- and situation-specific and may change within a culture depending on social status and relationship, they exist in all known human cultures. Greetings can be expressed both audibly and physically, and often involve a combination of the two. This topic excludes military and ceremonial salutes but includes rituals other than gestures. A greeting, or salutation, can also be expressed in written communications, such as letters and emails.



The waving of the hand is a nonverbal gesture that has an unclear origin but is said to have dated back to as far as the 18th century [3] [ irrelevant citation ] however, it was not called waving and was not used as saying "hello", or "goodbye." The original gesture of waving was saluting. In the 18th century, knights removed the guard of their helmets to show their identity, following with a salute to show they come in peace; saluting is also used to show others that they are not armed with weapons and do not pose a threat. [4] The action of saluting was formalised only in the 1780s by European armies, and since then, it has become a common way of properly addressing one another in the military setting. [3] There is also an alternate ASL origin. In the 1800s, waving handkerchiefs was a way to show approval or excitement or to call attention for the deaf, and the Romans, which is known as the "Chautauqua salute." It is recorded during a Canadian event in 1884 that multiple attendees forgot their handkerchief and so waved their hands in the air as a way to clap during the event. [5] . In modern days, the accepted and common way for a deaf individual to applaud is raiseing hands in the air and simultaneously shaking their open fisted hand and moving their fingers back and forth. [6]

Salute gesture or other action used to display respect

A salute is a gesture or other action used to display respect. Salutes are primarily associated with armed forces, but other organizations and civilians also use salutes.

American Sign Language Sign language used predominately in the United States

American Sign Language (ASL) is a natural language that serves as the predominant sign language of Deaf communities in the United States and most of Anglophone Canada. Besides North America, dialects of ASL and ASL-based creoles are used in many countries around the world, including much of West Africa and parts of Southeast Asia. ASL is also widely learned as a second language, serving as a lingua franca. ASL is most closely related to French Sign Language (LSF). It has been proposed that ASL is a creole language of LSF, although ASL shows features atypical of creole languages, such as agglutinative morphology.


Waving "hello" or "goodbye" to the deaf requires a different protocol and has an alternate meaning than the standard, one action waving gesture that means both "hello" or "goodbye." For an ASL user or a deaf individual, saying "goodbye" is done by repeatedly opening and closing the right hand, and it faces the receiver of the gesture. This method is used to say "goodbye" to a group of people; saying "goodbye" to an individual is done with a different method. Saying "hello" is done by the traditional waving of the right hand. This method is used to say "hello" to a group of people, likewise with implying "goodbye", there is a different method to say "hello" to an individual. [7]


The waving of the hand has multiple variables and styles of performing the gesture. The common waving of the hand to mean "hello" or "goodbye" is done by moving the hand side to side, but there are more than one form of waving, each form having its own meaning.


Waving has four variables: the open palm (is the palm curved or straight), the angle of the wave (big waves or short waves), the elevation of the hand (above the head or held low), and the movement pattern of the wave (sideways rotation, up and down motion, side to side motion). [8]


There are different ways to wave the hand; some include the standard side-to-side wave, palm wide wave, wiggly wave (finger wiggle wave), "flirtatious" wave, open-and close finger wave, arm wave, and the "Miss America" wave.

People wave by raising their hand and moving it from side to side. Another common wave is to raise one's hand and repeatedly move the fingers downward toward the palm. A variant known as the wiggly wave consists of holding the hand near shoulder level and wiggling the fingers randomly. This can be used to appear cute or flirtatious to the target of the wave. The gesture can be used to attract attention at a distance. Most commonly, though, the gesture means quite simply "hello" or "goodbye . [9] [10] The royal wave, also known as a regal wave, pageant wave, parade wave, or Miss America wave, is a similar but distinct kind of hand waving gesture in which a person executes something alternatively described as either a 'plastic grin' with 'fingers cupped' and 'forearm swaying side-to-side' or a "vertical hand with a slight twist from the wrist". The gesture is often performed, to various degrees, by different members of the British royal family, signaling anything from regality, class and control to elegance, restraint and character. [11] [12]

Miss America beauty contest

Miss America is an annual competition that is open to women from the United States between the ages of 17 and 25. Originating in 1921 as a "bathing beauty revue", the contest is now judged on competitors' talent performances and interviews. As of 2018, there is no longer a swimsuit portion to the contest, or consideration of physical appearance. Miss America travels about 20,000 miles a month, changing her location every 24 to 48 hours, touring the nation and promoting her particular platform of interest. The winner is crowned by the previous year's titleholder.

Cultural interpretations

In American culture, waving is a known gesture that means "hello" or "goodbye". That gesture can also be used to call the attention of someone, for example waving down a taxi, or waving at a friend from a great distance. That gesture can may be interpreted differently and have a different meaning or even be highly offensive in South Korea, Europe, Nigeria, Greece, Bulgaria, Latin American countries, India, Japan, and other places. [13] [14] [15] [16] [17]

African culture


In Nigeria, waving the hand with the palm facing outward in front of someone's face is highly offensive and should be avoided. [14]



In China, women greet other women by waving. [18]


In Japan, hand waving while the palm is kept outward and near the face is a gesture used to display confusion or that the individual waving does not know or understand. [19] [20]

South Korea

In South Korea, it is inappropriate to call the attention of someone with a palm-up arm wave. Instead, the proper way to wave to someone or call for attention is to wave vertically, making sure the palm of the hand is in a downward position. [13] It is not uncommon to see waving among the younger population (in South Korea) to display their departure rather than bowing, which is the traditional way of greeting one another. Waving the hand outward towards the face is also used to grab the attention of a pet or child. [19] [20] [21]

European culture

In Europe, there are two different common forms of waving: the palm-show and the palm-hide. The palm-show is dominant across most of Europe, but Italy predominantly uses the palm-hide wave. [22]

Waving the hand to say "hello" or "goodbye" is done by moving the fingers down towards the wrist and back to an open palm position while keeping the palm facing out. Another way to say "goodbye" is done by wagging the fingers. That motion (wagging fingers) is also used to say "no." [14] [16]


In Greece, waving the hand with the palm facing out is an insult, rather than a greeting.

Holding the hand out, palm facing out and all five fingers exposed is offensive and dates back to the Byzantine times, when moutza would involve prisoners' faces being tainted with charcoal by their own hands and being forced to parade down town streets, moutza. In American culture, holding the hand out like that can be used to call someone's attention or to greet someone. [23]


In Ireland, the deaf use the hand wave to greet one another. Deaf women use an "open palms up half moon shape" type of wave to greet one another. Men, however, use a different way of greeting one another or women. [18]

Latin America

In Latin American countries, people greet one another by kissing, hugging or shaking hands. Waving their hand is uncommon, but it neither has any negative representation nor causes offense. [18]


In Nicaragua, waving to someone is tolerated but does not display proper etiquette. Instead, it is common to hug, kiss, or shake hands, following with the proper time of day ("good morning," "good afternoon," or "good evening"). [18]

See also

Related Research Articles

As-salāmu ʿalaykum is a greeting in Arabic that means "Peace be upon you". The salaam is a religious salutation among Muslims when greeting, though it is also used by Arabic speakers of other religions, such as Arab Christians. The typical response to the greeting is wa ʿalaykumu s-salām "And peace be upon you, too."

Body language is a type of a nonverbal communication in which physical behaviors, as opposed to words, are used to express or convey the information. Such behavior includes facial expressions, body posture, gestures, eye movement, touch and the use of space. Body language exists in both animals and humans, but this article focuses on interpretations of human body language. It is also known as kinesics.

Gesture form of non-verbal communication or non-vocal communication

A gesture is a form of non-verbal communication or non-vocal communication in which visible bodily actions communicate particular messages, either in place of, or in conjunction with, speech. Gestures include movement of the hands, face, or other parts of the body. Gestures differ from physical non-verbal communication that does not communicate specific messages, such as purely expressive displays, proxemics, or displays of joint attention. Gestures allow individuals to communicate a variety of feelings and thoughts, from contempt and hostility to approval and affection, often together with body language in addition to words when they speak. Gesticulation and speech work independently of each other, but join to provide emphasis and meaning.

Cheek kissing Social kissing gesture

Cheek kissing is a ritual or social kissing gesture to indicate friendship, family relationship, perform a greeting, to confer congratulations, to comfort someone, to show respect.

Index finger finger

The index finger, is the second finger of a human hand. It is located between the first and third digits, between the thumb and the middle finger. It is usually the most dextrous and sensitive finger of the hand, though not the longest – it is shorter than the middle finger, and may be shorter or longer than the ring finger – see digit ratio.

Shaka sign hand gesture associated with Hawaii and surf culture

The shaka sign, sometimes known as "hang loose," is a gesture of friendly intent often associated with Hawaii and surf culture. It consists of extending the thumb and smallest finger while holding the three middle fingers curled, and gesturing in salutation while presenting the front or back of the hand; the hand may be rotated back and forth for emphasis. While the shaka sign has spread internationally from its Hawaiian cultural roots to surf culture and beyond, the hand gesture also bears a variety of meaning in different contexts and regions of the world.

Tactile signing is a common means of communication used by people with both a sight and a hearing impairment, which is based on a sign language or another system of manual communication.

OK gesture Hand gesture

The OK or ring gesture is performed by connecting the thumb and index finger into a circle, and holding the other fingers straight or relaxed away from the palm. Commonly used by divers, it signifies "I am OK" or "Are you OK?" when underwater. In most English-speaking countries it denotes approval, agreement, and that all is well or "okay". In other contexts or cultures, this same gesture may have different meanings or connotations, including many that are negative, offensive, financial, numerical, devotional, political, or purely linguistic.

Mountza Bhoonda

A mountza (or moutza or faskeloma is the most traditional gesture of insult among Greeks: it consists of extending all fingers of one or both hands and presenting the palm or palms towards the person to be insulted in a forward motion.

American Sign Language (ASL), the sign language used by the deaf community throughout most of North America, has a rich vocabulary of terms, which include profanity. Within deaf culture, there is a distinction drawn between signs used to curse versus signs that are used to describe sexual acts. In usage, signs to describe detailed sexual behavior are highly taboo due to their graphic nature. As for the signs themselves, some signs do overlap, but they may also vary according to usage. For example, the sign for "shit" when used to curse is different from the sign for "shit" when used to describe the bodily function or the fecal matter.

Etiquette in Latin America varies by country and by region within a given country.

Añjali Mudrā hand gesture, associated with Indian religions, practiced throughout Asia and beyond

Añjali Mudrā is a hand gesture, associated with Indian religions, practiced throughout Asia and beyond. It is used as a sign of respect and a greeting in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia, also used among East Asian Buddhists, Taoists and Shintoists and amongst yoga practitioners and adherents of similar traditions. The gesture is incorporated into many yoga asanas. The gesture is also used for worship in many Eastern religions.

Sembah Indonesian greeting and gesture as a way of demonstrating respect and reverence

Sembah is an Indonesian greeting and gesture as a way of demonstrating respect and reverence. While performing the sembah, the person clasped their palms together solemnly in a prayer-like fashion called suhun or susuhun in Javanese; or menyusun jari sepuluh in Indonesian, and placed them in front of the chest, and moving the combined palms up to the chin, or all the way up until the thumbs touching the tip of the nose, while bowing slightly.

An obscene gesture is a movement or position of the body, especially of the hands or arms, that is considered exceedingly offensive or vulgar in some particular cultures. Such gestures are often sexually suggestive.

Aadab, meaning respect and politeness, is a pluralistic hand gesture used by South Asian Muslims, as well as many Hindus, while greeting one another. It is associated with Indo-Persian culture. The word is derived from Urdu, through the Arabic word Aadaab, meaning etiquette.

Motorcycling greetings

Motorcycling greetings can include several gestures made between motorcyclists on the road. Titles for this greeting include "Biker wave", "Motorcyclist wave", "Motorcycle wave" or just "The Wave." The greeting made can include a number of gestures including a nod, a pointed finger, palm-out V sign, or an actual raised-hand wave.


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