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Italian Hand Gestures

Comedian Russell Peters remarks [note: language not appropriate for kids in the video] that "every word in Italian has a hand signal that goes with it...it's like [Italians] all used to be deaf at some point."  Indeed, the language is spoken as much with the hands and face than the lips.  Gli italiani parlano con le mani.  The following is a summary of some of the main gestures--note that for most of them, if you do it with both hands, it is a stronger version of the same gesture.


Warning: Many of these gestures can be vulgar; stars indicate how much (* = off-color, ** = somewhat offensive, *** = extremely offensive)

Italian Hand Gesture Italian phrase(s) associated with gesture
 English translation/interpretation
toss something behind back Multi anni fa... "A long time ago", "Way back when..."
index finger spins forward in circle Dopo, Ci vediamo dopo "Later", "See you later"
drill finger into cheek Buono, Bello, Delizioso "Good!", "Beautiful!", "Delicious!"
kiss fingertips and toss away Al Bacio, Benissimo, Bellissimo "Wonderful!"
pinch fingers, draw straight line Perfetto "Perfect!"
hands together in prayer Per favore, Ti prego, Ma va, Mamma mia! Asking for something "Please," "I beg you", "Come on"...or just expressing frustration/emotion "Good Lord!" (see Italian Voices column for more things that "Mamma mia" can mean)
side of index fingers tapping together Sono vicini, Se l'intendono, Sono d'accordo That two things or people are close/nearby, and possibly literally or figuratively in bed with each other.  "There's something going on with those two", "They understand each other" etc.
"time out" with side of hand
Andiamo via, Smamma, Vattene Leaving; could be either person or both: "I'm leaving," "Go away" or "Let's go"
straight hand taps stomach Ho fame "I'm hungry"
make pistol with thumb/index finger, rotate Guasto, Non posso, E finito, Non c'è, Non se ne fa nulla, Non lo so, Mi dispiace "It's broken", "Sorry, I can't help you", "There isn't any more", "Nothing can be done", "I don't know"
tug lower eyelid Fa attenzione, (Che) furbo, Intesa "Watch out", "That guy is sneaky", "What a smart alleck"
turn large imaginary knob Rubare "(Someone is trying) to steal"
upturned hand, pinch fingertips together Pieno "Full", "Crowded"
stirring imaginary bowl with fingertips* Segreto, Marachella

"Something secret/illicit is going on", "What witches' brew are they stirring?", "Let's slip away to somewhere private"

thumb slices down cheek* Intelligente, Bravo/a/e/i "That guy/gal is really sharp", "I like that/him/her"
chin flick* Non me fa niente, Non m'importa, Me ne frego  "Who cares?", "I don't give a damn", if done violently could be "I don't give a f---" (also in Naples can mean a forceful "No")
index finger/hand taps head* Pazzo, Matto, Toccato, Svitatto "You/he/she is crazy!"
thumping downturned hand on chest*
Che peso, Mi sta qua
 "I can't stand him/her", "I can't take any more of this"
shake hands up and down, fingertips together, at chest/waist level (* to ***) Ma cosa vuol dire, Non ci credo, Per che?
 "I don't agree", "I don't believe it", "What am I supposed to do?" The lower it is, the more offensive--e.g. done at your crotch it is a bit like "Why are you busting my f---ing balls?"
fingertips together and wagged towards face (* to ***)
Che (cazzo***) vuoi?
Depending on how violently you shake your hands, this could be from a relatively polite, "What did you say?" to a very rude "What the f--- do you want?".  If fingers are upturned (not towards face), it is just a way of showing emphasis.
hands cup imaginary balls** Che palle (Neapolitan: Che guallera*** [sounds like "wallera"]) "How boring!"
UT hook 'em horns***
Cornuto ("fa la corna")
"Screw you!" (Literally: You have been cuckolded--i.e. your spouse is cheating on you.)
one arm strikes the inside elbow, other arm goes up*** Tie!, Vaffanculo! "F--- you!" (European version of the middle finger--which is also used.)
honking horn with palm*** Si tromba? / Vuoi scopare? "Want to f---?"  (Literally, "blow the trumpet" / "sweep")
flick ear*** Gay "You're gay/lesbian"
both hands out, forming a box with index fingers & thumbs*** [watch Tony Soprano doing it] Ti faccio un...(culo così) "I'll kick your a--" (Literally, "I will make your a--hole this big")

Resources for Learning More About Italian Hand Gestures

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