Hand gestures in Italian: a complete handbook to understand them

mano con il pollice alzato - hand with a thumb up

Hand gestures in Italian play a very important role during conversations. If you are a foreigner they can help you understand better what we say. Fortunately we tend to frequently “talk” using our hand, in fact it is the first aspect used by comedians to mock us.

Perché non provi a leggere in italiano?

Per imparare le lingue la pratica è fondamentale. Perché non provi a leggere questo articolo in italiano?

Why do Italians make hand gestures?

There are a lot of theories to explain the origin of hand gestures in Italian, and according to them they originated centuries ago.

The Italian peninsula in ancient times

As you may already know, Southern Italy was occupied by Ancient Greeks and it was called Magna Grecia in those times. During the same period, the cities in that area were extremely crowded and people had to find a way to be noticed in the middle of markets.

To better understand this need, you can think about all the people who try to deposit their coat at the disco, while the staff member seems not to be paying attention. (Or at least in Italy the situation is quite crowded).

Different languages, common hand gestures.

Another theory as been created on the basis of the different reigns that occupied the Italian soil. In fact, Spain, France and Austria did expand their dominion also on the Italian peninsula, imposing their own language as the official way to communicate, leaving local languages exclusively for informal conversations. How could the population understand each other? Using hand gestures obviously!

Hand gestures in Italian

Before getting started with the explanation of all the hand gestures in Italian, you need to know that they are used mostly in informal situations, so you can easily see them while Italians talk to friends or relatives, while we do not use them when speaking with the boss or with teachers at school. The only exception when you can use Italian hand gestures in formal occasion is when you don’t want to be excessively explicit as a form of euphemism. If you don’t know what an euphemism is, you can look it up in my handbook dedicated to the figures of speech.

The “go away” hand gesture

This is one of the simplest hand gestures in Italian. We generally use it to tell someone to go away. This can be understood both in a friendly or in an intimidatory way.

Let’s imagine that you are at a party. There can be two situation where this Italian hand gesture can be helpful. First of all you can use it to tell a friend who is flirting with a boy. You obviously don’t want to bother them so you can tell him/her from distance that you are going away using this hand gesture. The other scenario presents when someone is bothering you and you want to tell them to go away. In this case, you can make this hand gesture with a very threatening face.

The “go away” Italian hand gesture

The “a long time ago” hand gesture

This hand gesture is highly used in Italian when talking about an episode that happened a long time ago. Unfortunately this is useful only when speaking, but here on “Puntini Sulle I” there is an article about writing stories in Italian. This Italian hand gesture can be made both in a very visible way and by just showing it a little.

“A long time ago” hand gesture

The “what do you want” hand gesture.

This is undoubtedly one of the most famous Italian hand gestures because it is actually the most used among the whole Italian population. It is so famous that there is an emoji representing it! ?

It is always followed by these expressions:

  • “Ma cosa vuoi?!” (What do you want?)
  • “Cos’hai da guardare?!” (Why are you looking at me?)
  • “Ma cosa (cazzo) fai?!” (What are you fucking doing?)

This hand gesture has a very bad connotation in Italian, so please keep in mind that you mustn’t use it very frequently!

Here you can see an example of an Italian football player using during the Italy-Austria match in the European Championship 2021 after the referee called a foul.

The “are you mad?!” hand gesture

As you may already have noticed, sometimes Italians use hand gestures when dealing with people we generally don’t like or when we are angry. This specific hand gesture in Italian is used followed by the expression “Ma ce la fai (a capire quello che voglio dire)?” e “Sei completamente andato!” that translate to “Can you understand what I want to say?” or “You are completely mad!” So, also in this case you need to be careful while using this hand gesture!

The “are you mad?” hand gesture

The “I don’t give a f*ck” hand gesture.

This is also one of the most used hand gestures in Italian language, especially when someone tells us something we are supposed consider, but we are actually not interested in.

The “I don’t care” hand gesture

The “F*ck you” hand gesture

This Italian hand gesture is also known as the “umbrella gesture”. It can be made in two ways.

The first one is the most complicate because you have to hit your forearm with the palm of the other hand. The second way simply consists in “throwing” your hand in front of you keeping it slightly above the level of your ear.

I’m keeping this guide updated!

Keep calm! This handbook about Italian hand gestures is being constantly updated to grant you the best experience with my blog.
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Due piccioni con una fava!

Italian hand gestures made by Italian people

As you may have already noticed, the concept of hand gestures in Italian is very important. This characteristic is used by foreigners to mock us because it is a distinctive sign of Italian culture.

Dolce&Gabbana and Italian hand gestures

Dolce&Gabbana, the famous fashion brand, has realized a short video that shows Italian models making Italian hand gestures while explaining them! Enjoy!

Learn Italian hand gestures with Dolce&Gabbana’s models

It’s not only pop culture!

Hand gestures are so important in Italian that Bruno Munari, a famous Italian designer, artist and designer, created the following appendix for dictionaries in Italian: “Speak Italian: The Fine Art Of The Gesture : A Supplement to the Italian Dictionary“.

I hope that this handbook helped you in understanding Italian hand gestures and enhanced your knowledge and curiosity towards Italian culture!

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