Even if you’re not big into politics, you’ve probably seen it by
now — the gesture.
In a kind of loose fist, the politician presses their thumb
firmly into the middle joint on their index finger, curling their
fingers into their palm.
When they want to make a point, they extend the closed hand out
toward the crowd, as if handing over a sum of money.
It’s not a particularly comfortable position to stay in, but
profiler and body language expert Joe Navarro says it has
become so common on campaign trails because our bodies tend to
reflect what our brains are trying to communicate.
“When we talk about one precise thing, we tend to do this,”
Navarro tells Business Insider via Skype, forming both hands into
loose approximations of the gesture. “This is a modified
Precision grips are used for a variety of fine-motor movements,
including writing, eating, and drawing. If a politician makes a
similarly precise gesture during a speech, Navarro takes that as
a sign the speaker is trying to make an important or complex
“It is articulating that you’re focusing on something, and that
you’re grasping it cognitively,” he says.
From his experience observing other world leaders, Navarro says
the fist-for-emphasis gesture is mostly North American in nature.
The tendency overseas is to adopt a gesture closer to the one
used by Donald Trump, in which he forms a tight “A-OK” sign with
both hands. Both are matters of preference, he says.
Here are French President Francois Hollande and Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas demonstrating what Navarro is talking
Both styles emphasize the speaker’s desire to make a fine point,
Navarro says. But he would offer a word of caution to political
leaders who turn the tactic into just a tic, as overuse can
dilute its power.
“When we see the same behavior over and over again,” Navarro
says, “we either ignore it or it becomes a caricature.”
That’s how you end up with people like Julia Louis Dreyfus
mocking the gesture as “impotent” on late-night TV and
branding it with a whole new title. Enter: the thist.
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