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OK gesture.

The hand gesture performed by connecting the thumb and index finger into a circle (the O), and holding the other fingers straight or relaxed in the air, is a commonly-used form of nonverbal communication. In many parts of the world, it is synonymous with the word OK, denoting approval, agreement, or that all is well. In other contexts or cultures, this same gesture may have different meanings or connotations, including negative or offensive ones.[1]

Unicode symbol U+1F44C (👌) represents this gesture.


The gesture is sometimes called the A-OK sign, a reference to a phrase that became popular during the American space program of the 1960s.

A-ok (also, A-okay or A-OK /ˌ.ˈk/) is a more intensive word form of the English term OK.

US Air Force Lt. Col. John "Shorty" Powers popularized the expression "A-ok" while NASA's public affairs officer for Project Mercury, and was reported as attributing it to astronaut Alan Shepard during his Freedom 7 flight.[2][3] However, the NASA publication This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury says in a footnote: "A replay of the flight voice communications tape disclosed that Shepard himself did not use the term." and that "Tecwyn Roberts of STG and Capt. Henry E. Clements of the Air Force had used 'A.OK' frequently in reports written more than four months before the Shepard flight."[4][5] Apparently, the first documented use of "A-ok" is contained within a memo from that Tecwyn Roberts, a Flight Dynamics Officer, to Flight Director (entitled "Report on Test 3805", dated Feb 2, 1961) in penciled notes on the countdown of MR-2 (Mercury-Redstone 2), dated Jan[uary] 31, 1961.[4][6] In his book The Right Stuff author Tom Wolfe wrote that Powers had borrowed it from NASA engineers who used it during radio transmission tests because "the sharper sound of A cut through the static better than O".[3]

Multiple meanings[edit]

Positive connotation[edit]

The gesture is widely used to mean "all is well" or "good". Where the word "OK" may mean a thing is merely satisfactory or mediocre, such as "the food was ok", the gesture is commonly understood as a signal of approval,[1] and is sometimes used syonymously with the Western "thumbs up" gesture.

Diving signal for "I'm OK" or "Are you OK?"

As an international underwater diving signal, the OK gesture is used to communicate that there are no problems.[7] It is used as a question, Are you okay?, and its response Yes, I'm OK, or just as a statement, I'm OK. It can be confusing for beginners, because using the "thumbs up" gesture rather than the OK gesture signals that the person making that gesture wants to ascend to the surface.

In the military slang among the conscripts of the Finnish Defence Forces, this gesture is used to denote the number 0, referring to the days left until their honorable discharge.[citation needed] It is also used as a taunt to other conscripts that still have a number of days left.

In basketball, this gesture has been used for the referee signal for a successful three pointer, which is done by raising both hands into the ok gesture (showing three fingers in a distinctive way that would not be mistaken from a successful two points). Sometimes players use this gesture to show they just made a three pointer because of this.

Vitarka mudra, Tarim Basin, 9th century

A similar gesture, the Vitarka mudra ("mudra of discussion") is the gesture of discussion and communication (for the number 0) of Buddhist teaching.[8]

Neutral connotation[edit]

In Japan, when used with the back of the hand facing down and the circle facing forward, it can mean money, change, or coins.[9]

In Australia and Portugal, it can either mean okay or zero.[citation needed]

In Hong Kong, it can either mean "okay" or "three". "Zero" is represented by a semi-closed fist.[citation needed]

Negative connotation[edit]

While the gesture is positive in some countries, in certain parts of middle and southern Europe (although not in Spain or Portugal) the gesture is considered offensive,[10] as in you are a zero or you are nothing.[not in citation given] The connotation of zero or worthless is known in France and Belgium, while in some Mediterranean countries such as Turkey, Tunisia, the Middle East, as well as in Brazil and parts of Germany, it represents vulgar expressions: either an insult (you are an asshole), or the slang for anus itself.[1][11] By the same symbolism, it stands for faggot (a vulgar word for homosexual) in several South American countries.

The gesture is also associated with the circle game, which is sometimes used as a form of bullying. Players attempt to trick other players into looking at the symbol held below their waist, which then allows them to punch that person.[12]

In most continental European countries, when the sign is placed over the nose, with the nose protruding through the O made by the thumb and forefinger, it means drunk. The origins of this sign may stem from the hand gesture holding a bottle's head while drinking. As a bottle with alcoholic liquid is implied this refers to drinking or the state of being drunk.[citation needed]

In the Arab world, this sign represents the evil eye, and is used as a curse, sometimes in conjunction with verbal cursing.[13]

In the view of some Occultists, it is the number 666, due to the circle and the three fingers behind it.[14] The sign is associated with the Illuminati or Freemasonry by some conspiracy theorists, especially when shown in the media and used by mainstream entertainers.[15][16]

In some areas both the positive "OK" and the negative forms are practiced, which can lead to confusion over which meaning is intended.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Armstrong, Nancy; Wagner, Melissa (2003). Field Guide to Gestures - How to Identify and Interpret Virtually Every Gesture Known to Man. Quirk Books. ISBN 978-1-931686-20-4. 
  2. ^ "Calm Voice from Space". Time (Time Inc.). March 2, 1962. Retrieved April 3, 2011. (subscription required (help)). 
  3. ^ a b Wolfe, Tom (1988). The Right Stuff (17th print ed.). Toronto: Bantam Books. p. 227. ISBN 9780553275568. Retrieved June 28, 2015 – via Google Books. 
  4. ^ a b Swenson, Loyd S. Jr.; Grimwood, James M.; Alexander, Charles C. (1989). "This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury, Chap. 10: 'Ham Paves the Way'". Footnote 37. NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). Retrieved June 22, 2015. In reporting the Freedom 7 flight, the press attributed the term to Astronaut Shepard, ... A replay of the flight voice communications tape disclosed that Shepard himself did not use the term. . It was Col. John A. "Shorty" Powers ... Tecwyn Roberts of STG and Capt. Henry E. Clements of the Air Force had used "A.OK" frequently in reports written more than four months before the Shepard flight. ... Other sources claim that oldtime railroad telegraphers used "A-OK" as one of several terms to report the status of their equipment. Be that as it may, Powers, "the voice of Mercury Control," by his public use of "A.OK," made those three letters a universal symbol meaning "in perfect working order."  
  5. ^ Strauss, Mark (April 15, 2011). "Ten Enduring Myths About the U.S. Space Program: 5. “Alan Shepard is A-Okay”". Smithsonian . Smithsonian Institution. p. 3. Retrieved September 8, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Tecwyn Roberts: A-OK." llanddaniel.co.uk. Retrieved: May 5, 2011.[unreliable source?]
  7. ^ Merritt, Anne (2010). "Common Gestures Easily Misunderstood Abroad." Matador Network.
  8. ^ Gertrud Hirschi (2000). Mudras: yoga in your hands (illustrated ed.). Weiser Books. p. 140. ISBN 978-1-57863-139-1. 
  9. ^ Ju Brown, John Brown (2006). China, Japan, Korea Culture and Customs. Ju Brown. p. 55. ISBN 978-1-4196-4893-9. 
  10. ^ Dangerous Body Language Abroad, by Matthew Link. Posted Jul 26th 2010 01:00 PM. Retrieved on November 17, 2012
  11. ^ Body Language. Obscene, to be used with extreme moderation! Retrieved on November 17, 2012
  12. ^ The Original Website of the Circle Game
  13. ^ Gestures, Arab Culture PDF. GlobalSecurity.org
  14. ^ OK—Sign of the Divine King
  15. ^ Masonic Signs in the Media
  16. ^ Illuminati Symbols : Satanic 666 Hand Sign

External links[edit]

Media related to O gesture with thumb and forefinger at Wikimedia Commons