Bending index and middle finger while talking.[air quotes, quote]


Senior Member
I hope this does not violate any forum rule.

I see on movies people lift up hand(s) with palm facing forward and index and middle finger bent couple of times and says anything.
Because I cannot recall each items the person is speaking, it is tough to tell exactly what that sentence was.

Would anyone kindly tell what this gesture mean?

And what occasion one use this?

And why one hand sometimes and quite often two hands at the same time?

Thank you for your attention.

  • cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    It is not rude, wathavy. It is, in my personal opinion, a childishly theatrical way to avoid saying and I quote, or I quote, or quote, or the author says. It is a gesture in place of speech. Many gestures used by English speakers are, in fact, rude rather than euphemistic ways of casting insults.


    Senior Member
    English UK
    I don't think I necessarily use it to quote the words of another person.

    I would use it to put "virtual inverted commas" round a word or phrase - which could imply a quote, or could simply mean I'm using the word or phrase ironically.

    As to whether you should avoid the gesture - well, it's a matter of taste. As cuchu says, it's not rude. But it's probably best used sparingly:)

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    It's difficult to explain why so many people find it annoying. I found a reference to it on a blog, the writer had picked up the habit and was appalled at having done so. It's interesting to note that he associates the habit with a certain kind of person, with whom he does not wish to be confused:
    I've developed the disturbing habit of using my fingers to make quotation marks in the air around things I'm saying to people; usually ironic things. What I want to know is how the hell this happened? I hate when I see people doing this! How did I turn into this kind of person?
    I'm thinking of having a special sweater made, with lead sleeves, so I can't raise my arms any more.
    It's difficult to explain the kind of person he means, but they are certainly an irritating and annoying kind: perhaps effusive or affected types, particularly. The gesture is often mocked due to this association.


    Senior Member
    Should you choose to use the gesture, do be very careful to align your hands so that they are at equal height. If one hand were higher than the other, the gesture might be taken as a sign that you were "climbing the walls", or extremely annoyed or bored or nervous.


    Senior Member
    English UK
    Aaargh! I am clearly - on occasion - irritating, annoying, effusive and affected:eek:

    Nothing new there, then...


    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    These are often referred to as "air quotes".

    When I searched online for a picture and reference, I found an article in the The Phrase Finder.

    I was surprised that they have a picture of a woman making the gesture that dates back to the 1950's, I believe. They also quote a description of the gesture's use in 1927. This surprised me. I had thought that the gesture was a more recent innovation. However, they say that the name "air quotes" itself possibly did originate in the 1980s.

    Adding, in Loob's defense, their quotation from 1927:

    [T]here is a record of its being in use much earlier - in the July 1927 edition of Science:
    "Some years ago I knew a very intelligent young woman who used to inform us that her 'bright sayings' were not original, by raising both hands above her head with the first and second fingers pointing upward. Her fingers were her 'quotation marks' and were very easily understood."
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    Senior Member
    English UK
    Thanks, Cagey, you're a gent:) My occasional use of "air quotes" would have been fine in 1927, then.

    [That makes me feel even older than I am!]

    Wathavy, as I said, use the gesture sparingly...


    New Member

    I have a question about a kind of gesture.

    Actually, my question is not a word or phrase... but i want to know about it.

    when people have a conversation, they sometimes use a hand gesture like


    why people use this gesture?

    exactly i want to know~~~~


    << This thread has been merged with an earlier thread. Please read from the top. :)
    Cagey, moderator. >>


    Last edited by a moderator:


    Senior Member
    English - British
    It indicates inverted commas (quotation marks).
    The person means that the word or phrase they are saying should be considered to be within "quotation marks".


    Here it means "in the figurative/opposite meaning", which is what quotation marks are often used for.

    for example, you can say of a very hostile person:

    - He is very (show the gesture) friendly guy.


    Senior Member
    English - American
    These are often referred to as "air quotes". [...] I had thought that the gesture was a more recent innovation. However, they say that the name "air quotes" itself possibly did originate in the 1980s....

    I think a lot of terms starting with "air..." derive from "air guitar" (people playing a phantom guitar, along with recorded music) which is about from that vintage.

    NGram Viewer shows a big-time boost for air guitar starting around 1980. (with a weird little hump around 1900 - explain that one!)
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    Uncle Bob

    Senior Member
    British English
    A bit late but I'm not sure that it can't indicate some rudeness. I think it implies that the person to whom you are talking is unable to understand irony without being given a clue to help them. In films it is probably used because some of the audience will need such help.

    I think it is akin to using smileys when writing for readers who have the same native language (not the case on the forum) - it indicates that either the writer can't express himself or that he thinks the reader is too stupid to understand. My opinion only.
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    English - England
    It is possible, but no more than that, that the air-quote may imply that. Annoying and affected as it is, I don't think that yours should be an invariable conclusion. The air-quote is often used (i) to emphasise the significance actual words spoken or (ii) where, in written English, (sic) might follow.

    e.g. "He said that he was a high Tory but, in his speech in Manchester, he said, "I side with the <air-quote> struggle of the proletariat<air-quote>." which is a little surprising."

    (ii)"He said, "The <air-quote>entomology</air-quote> of 'OK' is a mystery"."

    Another use in films is simply to indicate the character of the person using the sign.
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    Senior Member
    Persian (Farsi)
    In some movies or series, like "how I met your mother", actors bend their index and middle fingers of both their hands simultaneously while saying something. What does it mean and where should it be used? It seems that people use it when they are talking about something commonplace or maybe as clear as the blue sky? am I right? Is it a sign of ridicule?


    Senior Member
    Persian (Farsi)
    Thanks. I think it could mean a matter-of-course and obvious thing which is sarcastic. Couldn't it?
    For example,
    A: I give you 10 dollars for doing this.
    B: oh "ten" dollars? "air quote" May I buy a car with the rest of it? "air quote"

    Am I right?


    Senior Member
    English English
    No, it doesn't really work like that, Eli: it's really only used with individual words or very short phrases:

    A: Here's $10 ~ go and buy yourself something nice.
    B: Oh a million thanks. And after I've bought myself [air quote] something nice [air quote], what shall I do with the other $8.01?

    But, as was said in the previous thread, it isn't necessarily used to show sarcasm/irony ~ sometimes it really does just mean "quote":)

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    In all of this discussion, it helps to remember what written quotes are used for.

    1. Quoting the actual words of someone else.
    2. Implying "These are not my words, but someone else's".
    3. Therefore implying "I cast doubt on these words, I scorn these words".

    Personally, I'd be happy to use air quotes occasionally for reasons 1 and 2, but I hope I'm not somone who too often has the attitude of number 3.​
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