Awkward turtle is a slang two-handed gesture used to silently mark a moment or situation as awkward. A number of spinoff hand gestures akin to the awkward turtle have since arisen (like the awkward palm tree, which even has its own Facebook page; awkward bell; awkward gong; awkward antlers; and awkward tent). The gesture is likely used in most cases playfully and ironically. Some have remarked that giving the gesture is a sort of celebration of social discomfort.
Some American Sign Language (ASL) sources indicate that the gesture is the same as ASL's for "sea turtle"—though people have disputed this, claiming it is actually the ASL sign for "platypus". The awkward turtle is gestured by placing one hand flat atop the other with both palms facing down, thumbs stuck out to the sides and rotating to look like flippers.
The term "awkward turtle" has transcended the gesture and is sometimes just stated, without the gesture.
"This wonderful, clumsy, candid moment, where even the crown's mighty power could not conquer the Awkward Turtle God. Royals, they're finally just like us!"— Elise Taylor, Vogue
"I got that feeling especially when she told me I had on the same outfit she saw me in in a picture on Facebook. It was one of those awkward turtle moments. I knew she creeped on my profile."— Sophomore economics student at Ball State University
Urban Dictionary's "top definition" for awkward turtle (as of January 2018) was a definition post on 6 September 2005—that definition also appears to be the oldest one for "awkward turtle" on Urban Dictionary.
A student journalist reported on the ubiquitousness of the awkward turtle hand gesture at the University of Pennsylvania on 3 February 2006. By 2008, Facebook reportedly had more than 500 "awkward turtle" groups, the largest of which had more than 27,000 members.
According to an Urban Dictionary five year snapshot (July 2012 and November 2017) of activity regarding "awkward turtle", activity peaked in early 2013, with February 2013 having the highest activity of all months in that span.
- Victor, Terry (2011). "Unconventional English in a Conventional Setting: The Genesis and Joy of the New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English". Universidad de Alicante. p. 294. Retrieved 15 January 2018.
In current wordless slang there is a significantly widespread trend for elaborate gestural constructs that signal an awkward silence or situation (‘this is an awkward situation – let’s get out of here/by recognising it we remain aloof’), epitomised by, yet not limited to, the awkward turtle gesture (which exists in a couple of distinct variations) and the awkward palm tree (which actually has its own FacebookTM page). This gesture is little more than an archly contrived in-group signalling: playful, certainly, probably ironic in intention, but in active circulation. The only way to gain a sufficient understanding of, say, the awkward turtle through the medium of a dictionary must be to see the gesture in action.
- Stein, Andrew (3 February 2006). "If being awkward is cool, I'm Miles Davis". The Brown Daily Herald. Retrieved 15 January 2018.
- Peckham, Aaron (1 January 2009). Mo' Urban Dictionary: Ridonkulous Street Slang Defined. Andrews McMeel Publishing. p. 12. ISBN 0740788922.
- "ASL Sign for Sea Turtle". HandSpeak.com. Retrieved 15 January 2018.
- Leber, Jessica (15 April 2008). "Do the Awkward Turtle". Columbia News Service. Columbia Journalism School. Retrieved 6 July 2011.
- Grate, Rachel (4 June 2012). "If I Were to Meet You Again". Passwords. Journals at Claremont at Scholarship @ Claremont. Retrieved 15 January 2018.
- Coleman, Julie (10 January 2014). Global English Slang: Methodologies and Perspectives. Routledge. p. 42. ISBN 1317934768.
- Taylor, Elise. "Prince Charles and Queen Letizia's Handshake Proves Even Royals Can't Escape Awkward Hellos". Vogue. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
- Horne, Kenneth. "A Constructivist Grounded Theory of Social Media Literacy and Identity Influence: Traditional-Age Undergraduate Students and Their Experiences with Social Media" (PDF). Ball State University, Cardinal Scholar. Retrieved 15 January 2018.
- "Awkward Turtle". Urban Dictionary. Retrieved 15 January 2018.
- Barrett, Grant; Barnette, Martha. "Awkward Turtle Slang". WayWordRadio.