Tracing the Rise of the Ubiquitous "Yes!" and the Rudely Pumped Fist

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Tracing the Rise of the Ubiquitous "Yes!" and the Rudely Pumped Fist

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maj 1, 2010, 2:08pm

When I left the USA for Japan in 1978, "yes" was just "yes," an affirmation. But, sometime over my twenty years away, it became the most common exclamation used to celebrate something or merely to express one's personal happiness. Over the same time period, fist-raising, once a sign of protest, and fist-shaking, once a threat, came to replace the obviously friendly, waving open palm. I recall seeing a movie about a WWII prison camp where Meryle Streep (sp?) and all the prisoners shouted "yes!" and raised their fists. It was on TV at night and I recall I was so riled up at the way the producers pushed contemporary body language and vocabulary on a previous generation that I could not sleep. I am thinking of doing a collaborative book on the history of the change and its significance. Does anyone else find it a subject of interest?

maj 1, 2010, 3:54pm

not really

maj 1, 2010, 4:07pm

>1 keigu: "I could not sleep"

Try melatonin.

maj 1, 2010, 8:25pm

>1 keigu: The fist gesture doesn't read as rude to me, but just excited. I agree with you that using it and the shouted "Yes!: exclamation can be a glaring anachronism.

But then, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre did a very nice Hamlet in which the frustrated Hamlet tears down a closed circuit television camera, to great dramatic effect.

It's art and communication.

maj 1, 2010, 9:33pm

BTW - the "friendly open palm" thing - one of the grossest insults to a Greek is showing your open palm. The pure insult is shoving it at their face, but Greeks wave with their hands turned backward to prevent showing the palm. At least, this was true when I lived there in the late 70s.

maj 2, 2010, 12:47am

msladylib, i realize the fist gesture is not rude NOW as it is just the way things are done -- and because it probably helps pump up adrenaline by being a tense gesture, i expect it will stick around for being useful to atheletes whether i like it or not -- but i wonder how it would have been taken by English speakers in the US and England, say 50 yrs ago.

As the past is a foreign country, I suppose prefer historical films to treat it that way, so our horizons may be broadened rather than the present being universalized. In the case of Hamlet, i see no problem because the anachronism is obvious. That is what a play is all about, play. It is the silent rolling up of the carpet I dislike.

jjmcgaffey, thank you! That is very interesting. I understand why the bare chin was thought obscene in Wilde's time, but why would the palm offend? Were the Greeks big slappers! Seriously, anyone?

ok, fogies, i'll try to cut the meladrama.
strawberry, try 1515, it would do you for japanese.

maj 2, 2010, 12:53am

When did anyone wave a friendly open palm to vibrantly express triumph and happiness? Granted, I wasn't around until 1985, but I just can't picture it.

My dad claps and yells "Face!!!" I also clap, rather than punch the air, and yell a variety of things, usually "Score!!!". My brother stampedes across the room. But I can see why someone would punch. In a moment when you're so excited and happy that you need to exclaim, you also need to do something with your hands or body. Waving doesn't seem like a logical thing to do, because a) it suggests you're waving to somebody - do people wave as a solitary gesture? - and b) it doesn't fit the exclamatory nature of the moment.

maj 2, 2010, 1:18am

The fist-air-punch-"yes" thing seems very USA to me (I'm a New Zealander)- and I've heard it followed by "Now THAT'S what I'm talking about!" (which elicited a lot of quiet surprised laughter).

It comes across to me as quite an aggressive gesture, but maybe that's because NZers are a bit of a sedate lot.

It wouldn't keep me awake at night, but things like that do!

maj 2, 2010, 4:44am

6> Criminals in Greece were paraded through the streets, and the 'proper' way to treat them was to pick up gunk from the gutter and shove it in their faces. Thus the open-hand shove at the face is an insult, and it gradually expanded to any exposure of the open palm.

maj 2, 2010, 3:27pm

Ex-Gi's may recall the pumped-fist gesture as a squad- and platoon-level signal meaning "run forward". Borincano "arriba" can use the same signal. Connection?

maj 15, 2010, 6:12pm

>7 ambushedbyasnail: Ambushedbyasnail. Re.: “when did anyone wave a palm?”

Despite my having won in both group and single athletic events, even in stadiums, it is amazing how little I recall of how exactly I expressed my joy! In one big win at a state meet competing in an event I was embarassed to do, I can recall the loud-speaker blasting “Gill of Geronimo is walking away with the gold!” But, growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, I was able to see a lot of Olympic track and field and recall people hugging one another and running about and waving to others – not so much “to vibrantly express triumph and happiness,” as to graciously share it and acknowledge the cheers. Athletes winning as instant royalty. Think of a Queen (or a President) waving to a crowd.

You make great points about whether waving is a solitary gesture or truly exclamatory? I think we may need to 1) see old movies to be sure about what we did before fists pumping and “yes!” I think I recall a) clapping my hands while jumping up and down and b) saying “yeah!” while looking up, raising the hands with the palms facing up and fingers out. True, it is not exclamatory. c) Outside I am sure I jumped up and down with open hands. It would be interesting to have the opinion of a very close student of baby body language about the nature part of this.

6> jjmcgaffey, I have a question about “Criminals in Greece were paraded through the streets, and the 'proper' way to treat them was to pick up gunk from the gutter and shove it in their faces” – did ancient Greeks all have latex gloves or did they not mind picking up ordure?

Fogies, !Arriba indeed! Using the fist as a signal indicates it was not used ordinarily, doesn’t it? It would be great to get more memories from old GI’s on memories of encountering exotic body languages.

Three new things. the first information, the second a question and the third another of my hyperbolic opinions.

1), the Japanese have a name for thrusting the fist in the air as a triumphant gesture, “gatsu pozu” or “Guts’ pose.” It was invented by and still identified with Guts Takahashi who raised the spirits of Japanese males during the Occupation by beating up on American pro-wrestlers. Other Japanese did not, however, copy it and do the same until it was globalized in the 1980’s.

2) Years ago, I recall seeing a huge photo of a fist sculpture in the Near East. Is, by any chance, fist-raising and punching the air a child of Islam?

3) I recall seeing Michael Jackson’s Beat It! and thinking it looked ridiculous for him to be so aggressively punching into the air trying to look tough. I thought if even the pacifistic elements of Usanian culture have adopted aggressive body language and others copy us, the whole world is screwed. Has anyone anywhere expressed concern over the fist becoming the face of the late-20 and early 21c? And, has anyone noted that while “Yes!” is more formal than “Yeah!” it ends in clenched teeth and a hiss and as such is, like the fist, tense? Has our “body-armor” now covered our hands and our mouths?

Redigeret: maj 15, 2010, 6:35pm

In the sixties the raised fist was a black power salute. People did not talk generally about its being borrowed from elsewhere, although it may have been. Some triumphant black American athletes used it during their medal winning at the Mexican Olympics to the shock of white America.

The gesture may have been co-opted or taken as cool from them by the wider population as things cooled down or as their statement was accepted.

A history of gestures could be an interesting book. I think a history of this gesture might better make an article.


maj 15, 2010, 10:06pm

11> I don't know when the criminals parading actually was happening - 1800s would be very different from BC. But in general - our current obsession with cleanliness is _very_ recent. I think it was 1800-something when a doctor figured out that if doctors washed their hands between seeing patients, fewer of the patients died - yeah, looks like 1840s for the first notion . So touching gutter gunk (even though it would probably have been a lot more noxious then) wouldn't bother too many people, but getting it shoved in their faces would.

Note that all of this is guesses. I was told the origin of the insult by a friend in Greece - hearsay at best - and have done no research on the matter.

maj 15, 2010, 10:50pm

Mr.Durick, I was in the stadium that day Smith and Carlos rose their fists -- wearing black gloves if I recall correctly -- and it did not just shock Usanians but the world. I recall having mixed feelings about what they did because my Mexican friends were upset that at least half the students at US universities were not black because, judging from the proportion of track stars, at least half of all the US was black. I found that with affirmative action already started in the US, the situation though not good was at least better than that in Mexico and was disturbed by the way the elite in Mexico used race problems to the North to call attention away from their greater problems. Perhaps you know about the massacre of students on the streets of Mexico DF during the Olympics that makes Kent State pale beside it. I do think that the gesture worked its way up from black power use of it but would like to see media studies (looking at newsreels over time) to be sure there are no other international factors involved.

I find articles generally unsatisfactory unless they are based on a summary of enough research to fill a book. But, still, if anyone can find one, i'd love to see it . . .

And if anyone who regularly gets to a library could get a copy of John Bulwer's Chirologia -- a mid 17c book on gesture including much classical history and i would bet international comparisons because Bulwer is also author of Anthropometamorphosis.

maj 16, 2010, 6:19am

waaa u guys know so much it gives me a headache

maj 16, 2010, 6:54am

I don't know why anyone thinks it is a "rudely pumped fist." Anachronism? That's the person who in this day and time finds a cheer rude.

If you want rude, how about the rudely grasped crotch?

maj 16, 2010, 7:00am

*gasp, wheese, sigh*
ya you're right
(agreeing with you) no duh:)

jun 13, 2010, 5:23pm

I thought at first that keigu was talking about a relatively recent phenomenon (well, since the late 80s I guess): this is the fist, knuckles facing away from the person making the gesture, being pulled down like a piston with the elbow heading downwards, simulataneous with a loudly whispered "yes!", all part of a victorious exclamation (sinking a putt, winning a tennis rally, generally getting one over an opponent). This is very much like (I imagine, I've only seen it in films) the US military gesture -- the rudely pumped fist? -- accompanied by "Go, go, go!" when a forward advance is required. But most of the discussion seems to suggest that I'm missing the point here.