GESTURES by Desmond Morris


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This is a purely descriptive and in many ways a delightful, disarming book. One blissfully without heavy theories or weighty explanations. Morris et al. decided to track the distribution and meaning of a score of human gestures--from commonplaces like thumbing your nose to more esoteric hand flicks and eye pulls--that exist in Europe and presumably have crossed the Atlantic in waves of immigration. The researchers showed standard drawings of the gestures to male adults (usually samples of over a thousand) and asked if the gesture was used locally and what it meant. (They felt that women would be hard to approach because of taboos, or because of the obscene nature of some of the gestures.) The results are a melange of curiosities and speculations. Nobody understands why nose thumbing is universally insulting, but you may believe, if you want to, that it has to do with making exaggerated waxen effigies in ridicule, or that it was initiated by medieval jesters. On the other hand, the forearm jerk is so clearly a phallic gesture of insult (or occasionally arousal) that in Malta a person can be arrested for making the display in public. And so on, to the vertical horn sign, the cheek stroke, the fig, the nose tap. . . and some concluding observations on cultural barriers and diffusion, gesture replacement, class differences. To be read for its compelling universal interest--and maybe for information should you be traveling to Naples. Equally hard to resist is the impulse to mimic every sign as it comes along. Thumbs up!
Pub Date: June 28th, 1979
ISBN: 0812860543
Page count: 296pp
Publisher: Stein & Day
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1979


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