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A mountza (μούντζα [ˈmund͡zɐ]) (or moutza (μούτζα [ˈmud͡zɐ]) or faskeloma (φασκέλωμα [fɐsˈce̞lo̞mɐ]) is the most traditional gesture of insult among Greeks: it consists of extending all fingers of one or both hands and presenting the palm or palms towards the person to be insulted in a forward motion.
It is often coupled with the expletives να (na, 'here'), όρσε (orse, 'there you are') and παρ'τα (par'ta, 'take these'), and with swear words. The closer the gesture is to the other person's face, the more threatening it is considered.
An even more offensive version is achieved by using both hands to double the gesture, smacking the palm of one hand against the back of the other, in the direction of the intended recipient.
If a Greek wants to hand-signal the number 5 to someone, they take care not to overextend the fingers, or to face their palm towards the person, lest it be mistaken for a moutza.
The origin of the gesture can be traced back to the ancient years, when it was used as a curse. It is said that even during the Eleusinian Mysteries, it complemented verbal curses against evil forces. It was then called φασκέλωμα faskelōma; that word and its variant faskelo still survive as synonyms of moutza.
In later years, the name changed to moutza in the penal code of the Byzantine Empire, whereby a chained criminal was paraded around town sitting, facing backwards, on a donkey and with their face smeared with cinder (μούντζος moutzos) to enhance their ridicule.
Because cinder was wiped on the person's face first by collecting it in the palm and then by extending open the fingers, the gesture itself became insulting, to be known as moutza, after the name of the material applied. The modern Greek word moutzoura or mountzoura for a smudge, scribble or dark stain has the same origin.
Around the world
The gesture of moutza does not have the same significance in other cultures around the world. In a few countries there are similar gestures. Their significances are:
- In Armenia, abruptly thrusting the palm of the hand to someone means "Curse you", but can also mean "Can't stand you anymore" if performed by a close female relative or friend (mostly mother or grandmother).\
- In Iraqi and Assyrian culture, abruptly pushing the palm of the hand towards someone means they are worthy of shame and are dishonourable.
- In Sindh, the showing of the palm to someone in a thrusting manner is also considered an insult. This gesture is called bunda.
- In the Persian Gulf, showing the palms of both hands to someone after clapping them is also considered an insult, together with saying Malat Alaik. It's usually done by women as it is considered not manly if men do it.
- Since the 1990s in North America, a similar gesture is used in "Talk to the hand". By showing the palm of the hand, with fingers spread, and saying "Talk to the hand... because the face ain't listenin'" is the equivalent of "You're wasting your breath" or "Shut up". Even before then, a common expression of displeasure was to "throw" one's hand.
- In Mexico, it can be used to say hi (together with waving); but when steady or moving it repeatedly towards the receiver means "You'll see!" (Spanish: Vas a ver/Ya verás/Ya lo verás), warning that the giver will tell an authority figure (parent, teacher, principal, etc...) about any prank or other mischievous action the receiver has done. It is commonly used with children to scare them into behaving.
- In Nigeria, this can be viewed as offensive in particular tribes and is usually accompanied with the use of the expletive waka, meaning "your father".
- In Panama, in addition to meaning the same as in Mexico, it is also used to threaten the receiver (implying that they will be punished or be the target of violence or any other form of retribution) at a later and more appropriate/convenient time (often when there is less risk of getting caught in the case of physical retribution or attack). This is because aside from implying/saying the words Vas a ver! to the receiver, the word Espérate (colloq. Pérate) meaning wait, is also used often since the gesture also has the general meaning of wait/hold on as in many other parts of the world.
- In Chicago, the moutza was used on a mock "city sticker" in 2012 following a controversy over design ideas for an official city parking sticker honoring first responders. In the spoof sticker, the moutza is displayed with the middle finger cut off to represent Chicago's mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who lost part of his middle finger while cutting roast beef in high school.
- Phaedon Koukoules, "Life and culture of the Byzantines", addendum 5, 1986