Awkward turtle

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Awkward turtle hand gesture

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; awkward tent; awkward turkey; and awkward turtle makes babies). 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.[1][2][3]

The gesture is believed to have originally come from sign language. It's the common gesture for "turtle" and "tortoise" in Auslan,[4] and may also be in American Sign Language as the gesture for "sea turtle"—though people have disputed this, claiming it is actually the ASL sign for "platypus".[citation needed] 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.[5][6][7][8]

The term "awkward turtle" has transcended the gesture and is sometimes just stated, without the gesture.

Example usages[edit]

"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[9]

"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[10]


A student journalist reported on the ubiquitousness of the awkward turtle hand gesture at the University of Pennsylvania on 3 February 2006.[2] By 2008, Facebook reportedly had more than 500 "awkward turtle" groups, the largest of which had more than 27,000 members.[6] "A Way with Words", a public radio program about language, cited it as slang from UCLA during a segment on "awkward turtle" on 10 October 2009.[11]


  1. ^ 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.[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ a b Stein, Andrew (3 February 2006). "If being awkward is cool, I'm Miles Davis". The Brown Daily Herald. Retrieved 15 January 2018.
  3. ^ Peckham, Aaron (1 January 2009). Mo' Urban Dictionary: Ridonkulous Street Slang Defined. Andrews McMeel Publishing. p. 12. ISBN 0740788922.
  4. ^ "sign for Tortoise".
  5. ^ "ASL Sign for Sea Turtle". Retrieved 15 January 2018.
  6. ^ a b Leber, Jessica (15 April 2008). "Do the Awkward Turtle". Columbia News Service. Columbia Journalism School. Archived from the original on 6 January 2011. Retrieved 6 July 2011.
  7. ^ Grate, Rachel (4 June 2012). "If I Were to Meet You Again". Passwords. Retrieved 15 January 2018.
  8. ^ Coleman, Julie (10 January 2014). Global English Slang: Methodologies and Perspectives. Routledge. p. 42. ISBN 1317934768.
  9. ^ Taylor, Elise (July 12, 2017). "Prince Charles and Queen Letizia's Handshake Proves Even Royals Can't Escape Awkward Hellos". Vogue. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Barrett, Grant; Barnette, Martha (October 10, 2009). "Awkward Turtle Slang". WayWordRadio.