Sign of the horns

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A demonstration of the Sign of the Horns
Satan displaying the Sign of the horns in the Kitab al-Bulhan (A late 14th-century Arabic manuscript)

The sign of the horns is a hand gesture with a variety of meanings and uses in various cultures. It is formed by extending the index and little fingers while holding the middle and ring fingers down with the thumb.

Superstition[edit]

Its earliest use can be seen in India, as a gesture very commonly used by Gautama Buddha as Karana Mudra which is synonymous with expulsion of demons and removal of obstacles like sickness or negative thoughts. The same usage can be seen in Italy and Mediterranean culture as well where, when confronted with unfortunate events, or simply when these events are mentioned, the sign of the horns may be given to ward off bad luck. It is also used traditionally to counter or ward off the "evil eye" (malocchio). With fingers down, it is a common apotropaic gesture, by which superstitious people seek protection in unlucky situations (It is a more Mediterranean equivalent of knocking on wood). Thus, for example, the President of the Italian Republic, Giovanni Leone, shocked the country when, while in Naples during an outbreak of cholera, he shook the hands of patients with one hand while with the other behind his back he made the corna. This act was well documented by the journalists and photographers who were right behind him, a fact that had escaped President Leone's mind in that moment. In Italy, one can also "touch iron" (tocca ferro) or touch one's nose. Males in Italy and some other countries may grab their testicles when confronted by bad luck; however, this is considered more vulgar.

In Peru one says contra (against). In the Dominican Republic the expression is zafa, said against curses known as fukú. All of these gestures are meant to conjure supernatural protection.

Offensive gesture[edit]

In Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Uruguay,[1][2][3][4] when directed towards someone and swiveled back and forth, the sign implies cuckoldry; the common words for cuckolded in Italian, Greek and Spanish are cornuto, κερατάς (keratas) and cornudo respectively, literally "horned".[5] During a European Union meeting in February 2002, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was photographed performing this gesture behind the back of the Spanish foreign minister. When questioned about the incident, he replied "I was only joking." (Putting the horns on someone's head in a photo is an evergreen of Italian childish humor.)[6]

European and North American popular culture[edit]

Contemporary use by musicians and fans[edit]

The 1969 back album cover for Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls on Mercury Records by Chicago-based psychedelic-occult rock band Coven, led by singer Jinx Dawson, pictured Coven band members giving the "sign of the horns" correctly and included a Black Mass poster showing members at a ritual making the sign. Starting in early 1968, Coven concerts always began and ended with Jinx giving the sign on stage.

On the cover of The Beatles' Yellow Submarine album (1969), the cartoon of John Lennon's right hand is making the sign above Paul McCartney's head. For many fans, this was one of the many "Paul is dead" clues. Some may think it is possible that the cartoonist misrepresented the sign for "I love you", which is very similar and more in keeping with the band's public message and image. However, the 1969 cartoon is based on many photos of John Lennon making the hand sign in 1967. One of these photos of Lennon doing the hand sign appears on the cover of a Beatles single release shortly after, making it the first time the hand sign appears on a rock release.

Beginning in the early 1970s, the horns were known as the "P-Funk sign" to fans of Parliament-Funkadelic. It was used by George Clinton and Bootsy Collins as the password to the Mothership,[7] a central element in Parliament's science-fiction mythology, and fans used it in return to show their enthusiasm for the band. Collins is depicted showing the P-Funk sign on the cover of his 1977 album Ahh... The Name Is Bootsy, Baby! Frank Zappa can be seen jokingly making the gesture in the 1979 film Baby Snakes in response to the audience, commenting, "That's right, spindle twice."

In 1977 a painting of Gene Simmons of the band KISS, exhibits the sign on the cover of Love Gun, the band's sixth studio album. Simmons is the person who exhibited the sign and still does it on or off stage.

Heavy metal subculture[edit]

Vocalist Ronnie James Dio making the sign at a Heaven and Hell concert in 2007. The gesture is quite common within heavy metal culture.

Ronnie James Dio was known for popularizing the sign of the horns in heavy metal.[7][8] He claimed his Italian grandmother used it to ward off the evil eye (which is known in Southern Italy as malocchio). Dio began using the sign soon after joining the metal band Black Sabbath in 1979. The previous singer in the band, Ozzy Osbourne, was rather well known at using the "peace" sign at concerts, raising the index and middle finger in the form of a V. Dio, in an attempt to connect with the fans, wanted to similarly use a hand gesture. However, not wanting to copy Osbourne, he chose to use the sign his grandmother always made.[9] The horns became famous in metal concerts very soon after Black Sabbath's first tour with Dio. The sign would later be appropriated by heavy metal fans under the name "maloik", a corruption of the original malocchio.

Terry "Geezer" Butler of Black Sabbath can be seen "raising the horns" in a photograph taken in 1971.[citation needed] This would indicate that the "horns" and their association with metal occurred much earlier than Ronnie James Dio suggests. The photograph is included in the CD booklet of the Symptom of the Universe: The Original Black Sabbath 1970–1978 compilation album.

From a 2001 interview with Ronnie James Dio on Metal-Rules.com:

Metal-Rules.com – "I want to ask you about something people have asked you about before but will no doubt continue to talk about, and that is the sign created by raising your index and little finger. Some call it the "evil eye." I would like to know if you were the first one to introduce this to the metal world and what this symbol represents to you?"

R.J. Dio – "I doubt very much if I would be the first one who ever did that. That's like saying I invented the wheel, I'm sure someone did that at some other point. I think you'd have to say that I made it fashionable. I used it so much and all the time and it had become my trademark until the Britney Spears audience decided to do it as well. So it kind of lost its meaning with that. But it was.... I was in Sabbath at the time. It was a symbol that I thought was reflective of what that band was supposed to be all about. It's NOT the devil's sign like we're here with the devil. It's an Italian thing I got from my Grandmother called the "Malocchio". It's to ward off the Evil Eye or to give the Evil Eye, depending on which way you do it. It's just a symbol but it had magical incantations and attitudes to it and I felt it worked very well with Sabbath. So I became very noted for it and then everybody else started to pick up on it and away it went. But I would never say I take credit for being the first to do it. I say because I did it so much that it became the symbol of rock and roll of some kind."[10]

Electronic communication[edit]

In electronic communication, the sign of the horns is represented with the \m/ or |m| emoticon and sometimes \,,/ and /,,/.

Sports culture[edit]

A fan displays the Hook 'em Horns during a Texas football game versus Arkansas.

Hook 'em Horns is the slogan and hand signal of the University of Texas at Austin. Students and alumni of the university employ a greeting consisting of the phrase "Hook 'em" or "Hook 'em Horns" and also use the phrase as a parting good-bye or as the closing line in a letter or story. The gesture is meant to approximate the shape of the head and horns of the UT mascot, the Texas Longhorn Bevo.

Fans of the University of South Florida Bulls use the same hand sign at their athletic events, except that the hand is turned around and facing the other way. With the middle and ring finger extending towards the person presenting the "Go Bulls" sign.

Fans of North Dakota State University Bison athletics also use a similar hand gesture, known as "Go Bison!" The pinky and index fingers are usually slightly bent, however, to mimic the shape of a bison's horns.

Fans of North Carolina State University Wolfpack athletics use a similar gesture with the middle and ring fingers moving up and down over the thumb to mimic a wolf's jaw

Fans of University of California, Irvine Anteaters use a similar sign with the middle and ring fingers out to resemble the head of the mighty anteater.

Fans of University of Nevada, Reno Wolf Pack athletics use a similar sign with the middle and ring fingers out to resemble the wolf's snout.

Fans of University of Utah athletics, particularly football and gymnastics, use a gesture where the index and pinky finger are straight and parallel to each other, forming a block "U."[11]

Fans of Northwestern State University Demon athletics also use a similar hand gesture, known as "Fork 'em!" The pinky and index fingers are extended but a little more parallel to each other resembling the horns on a demon.

Arizona State University Sun Devil fans make a pitchfork sign by extending the index and middle fingers, as well as the pinky. The thumb holds down the ring finger to complete the gesture.

Fans of the University of Oklahoma, a Big 12 Conference rival of The University of Texas, typically invert the "Hook 'em Horns" as a symbol of defiance toward The University of Texas. This symbol is especially prevalent during football season, leading up to the Red River Rivalry game, played each October in Dallas, Texas.

Fans of the Wichita State University Shockers frequently hold up their middle finger in addition to the pointer and pinky fingers as a reference to the comic sexual act.

See also[edit]

  • Hook 'em Horns, hand signal of the University of Texas
  • ILY sign is sometimes confused with this gesture because many users tend to do the "horns" improperly by extending their thumb.
  • Shaka sign

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Rude hand gestures of the world". 
  2. ^ "International field guide to rude hand gestures". 
  3. ^ "Hand Gestures in Different Cultures". 
  4. ^ Rude Hand Gestures of the World: A Guide to Offending without Words By Romana Lefevre. 
  5. ^ "Hand Gestures Part Two — The Cuckold Gesture". Reading-Body-Language.co.uk. 
  6. ^ Peretz, Evgenia (July 2011). "La Dolce Viagra". Vanity Fair. 
  7. ^ a b Appleford, Steve (September 9, 2004). "Odyssey of the Devil Horns". Los Angeles City Beat. Archived from the original on November 22, 2007. "A friend arranges a meeting with Clinton. I hand him a photograph of Dio making the hand signal, and tell him this is the man (or one of them) credited with bringing it to rock. Clinton stares at the picture for a long, silent minute, breathing heavily. Another minute passes. He's never heard of Ronnie James Dio. It's the P-Funk sign, man." 
  8. ^ "The Devil's Horns: A Rock And Roll Symbol". Ultimate-Guitar.com. September 7, 2005. 
  9. ^ Ronnie James Dio interview in the 2005 documentary Metal: A Headbanger's Journey. In the interview he also ridicules Gene Simmons for taking credit for originating use of the sign in heavy metal, attributing the claim to Simmons' well-known egotism.
  10. ^ "Dio - Interviewed By EvilG". Metal-Rules.com. March 9, 2001. 
  11. ^ "MUSS - Student Cheer Section for the U of U Utes - University of Utah Alumni Association | MUSS". Alumni.utah.edu. 2011-03-18. Retrieved 2012-08-13. 

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