Crossed fingers

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Crossed fingers

To cross one's fingers is a hand gesture commonly used to wish for luck. Occasionally it is interpreted as an attempt to implore God for protection.[1] The gesture is referred to by the common expressions "cross your fingers", "keep your fingers crossed", or just "fingers crossed".

The use of the gesture is often considered by children as an excuse for telling a white lie.[2] By extension, a similar belief is that crossing one's fingers invalidates a promise being made.[3]


Courts of Mosaic law would often render verdicts with the phrase "May God have mercy upon your soul" to reaffirm God's supreme authority over the law. Most judges felt that while they could pass a sentence of death upon a person, they personally did not have the authority to destroy souls and that only God had the authority to do that.[4][5] As a result, some judges would cross their fingers whenever they said the phrase as a result of concern for the criminal's soul as they said it as a prayer.[6][4]

It has to be with the index and middle finger. Common usage of the gesture traces back to the early centuries of the Christian Church, and likely earlier. It is believed that in the early days of Christianity, people used it to signal their belief to others.[7] Christians would also cross their fingers to invoke the blessing power associated with Christ's cross. In 16th-century England, people cross fingers or make the sign of the cross to ward off evil, as well as when people coughed or sneezed.[8]

Related gestures[edit]

Pressing thumbs as gesture to wish for luck in German-speaking and many Slavic countries

In Vietnam the gesture is considered rude,[9][10] especially to another person. Referring to female genitals, it is comparable to the middle finger in American culture.

In German-speaking countries and also Sweden and Latvia the gesture is a sign of lying. Instead, wishing for luck is gestured by holding thumbs. The same gesture is used in many Slavic countries such as Poland,[11] the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and ex-Yugoslav[12] republics. In South Africa, Afrikaans speakers also have the related phrase "duim vashou" meaning "holding thumbs tightly".

In pre-Christian Western Europe, a related gesture had two people crossing their index fingers to form a cross, which represented perfect unity; this gesture was used to make wishes.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Orange Coast Magazine. Emmis Communications. May 1990. pg. 177. "In early Christian days, a believer confronted by evil or hostile influences implored the power of the Holy Cross for protection by twisting his middle finger over his forefinger and holding the remaining fingers down with his thumb."
  2. ^ Field Guide to Gestures. Quirk Books. 2003. pg. 201. "Children are a big proponent of this gesture, though they usually use it when telling white lies, believing that having the fingers crossed behind the back makes it okay to fib."
  3. ^ de Lint, Charles (2007). Widdershins. Macmillan. p. 287. ISBN 978-0765312853. Widdershins. Retrieved 2013-05-29. To a child, forget ethics. Crossing your fingers while making a promise truly invalidated the promise.
  4. ^ a b Darrow, Clarence (2005). Closing Arguments: Clarence Darrow on Religion, Law, and Society (reprint ed.). Ohio University Press. p. 156. ISBN 0821416324.
  5. ^ "Chicago Law Journal Weekly". Vol. 1. Law journal print. 1896. p. 61.
  6. ^ The Christian Register. Vol. 89. American Unitarian Association. 1910. p. 1159. ISSN 2158-1622.
  7. ^ "fingers crossed". The Idioms Dictionary.
  8. ^ Good Housekeeping, Volume 226. International Magazine Company. 1998. Crossing fingers: This was a Sign of the Cross that early Christians could use to avert bad luck without attracting the notice-and wrath-of pagans.
  9. ^ "Things not to do in Vietnam #1: "Crossed fingers"". 29 May 2015. Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  10. ^ "Vietnamese body language and what it means". 29 May 2011. Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  11. ^ Polish-language Wikipedia: trzymanie kciuków
  12. ^ "Držati (nekom) palčeve. - Idioms". Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  13. ^ Panati, Charles (1989). Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things. New York: Harper & Row. p. 8. ISBN 978-0060964191.

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