26 June 2009

The "Oh, No!" gesture

I'm not sure what it's called, or even if it does have a name, but it is familiar to everyone - both hands clasped to the top of the head - seen most often at sporting events (as shown above). I wonder where the gesture came from; it now seems to be broadly cross-cultural, if not universal. Do aboriginal people, or others without access to television broadcasting express frustration/disappointment in a similar fashion?

I thought maybe it could have arisen at sporting venues because there the gesture for victory or success or a goal is often both hands raised skyward - whence the collapse onto the head for a failure might be a logical extension.

I'm not expecting an answer, but any speculation or relevant observations would be welcome.

While (fruitlessly) researching this, I discovered that Wikipedia has a list of gestures. Single-hand gestures, two-handed ones, gestures made with other body parts. Browsing the list I found the eminently bloggable "anasyrma," but there appears to be much more to explore there.


  1. I had a professor last year who would do this whenever he was surprised or flustered(for instance, if a student made a potentially offensive political comment)-- it was rather amusing.

  2. Research completed earlier in the year on the expressive quality of emotion, observed a group of blind olympians at hugely emotional moments of their sporting lives, such as winning a gold medal, or just losing out for instance. Such people have of course never 'seen' other people's emotions (and therefore learnt them by observation and association) however, their keenly felt emotional responses, mirrored those of everyone else - using the same facial muscles to express pain, disappointment and of course, euphoria.


    Still maybe the 'oh no' gesture is just contagious, like a yawn...

  3. It's a vestigial hair-tearing gesture related to grieving.

  4. I thought this was a comforting action, touching/rubbing the top or back of your head.
    It mimics the feeling of being hugged by your mum when you're small, and she rubs the back of your head.
    Interestingly, I've seen loads more men do this than women.


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