Types of Hand Waves and What They Mean

What is Hand Wave?

A wave is a nonverbal communication gesture that consists of the movement of the hand and/or entire arm that people commonly use to greet each other, but it can also be used to say goodbye, acknowledge another’s presence, call for silence, or deny someone. The waving gesture is an essential element of human language.

There are different ways to wave the hand; some include the standard side-to-side wave, palm wide wave, wiggly wave (finger wiggle wave), “flirtatious” wave, open-and-close finger wave, arms wave, and the “Miss America” wave. People wave by raising their hand and moving it from side to side.

The waving of the hand is a nonverbal gesture that has an unclear origin but is said to have dated back to as far as the 18th century however, it was not called waving and was not used as saying “hello”, or “goodbye.”

The original gesture of waving was saluting. Prior to the 18th century, knights removed the guard of their helmets to show their identity, following with a salute to show they come in peace; saluting is also used to show others that they are not armed with weapons and do not pose a threat.

The action of saluting was formalized only in the 1780s by European armies, since then, it has become a common way of properly addressing one another in the military setting. There is also an alternate ASL origin in the 1800s, waving handkerchiefs was a way to show approval or excitement or to call attention for the deaf, which is known as the “Chautauqua salute.”

It is recorded during a Canadian event in 1884 that multiple attendees forgot their handkerchiefs and so waved their hands in the air as a way to clap during the event. In modern days, the accepted and common way for a deaf individual to applaud is by raising hands in the air and simultaneously shaking their open hand and moving their fingers back and forth.

Types Of Hand Waves and What They Mean

The technique a waver employs when waving at the waves is actually a very telling action that can determine, to the observant eye, the relationship between the two.

1. The “fingers outstretched, moving from side-to-side heartily” wave.

This implies the waver is genuinely happy to see the subject of their wave; usually accompanied by a sincere smile, with teeth.

2. The “moving fingers around in a scraggly fashion” wave.

Do not trust them. Avoid these people at all costs.

3. The “fingers prostrate themselves forwards and backward while the palm stays absolutely still with the thumb (possibly the pinky in another variation) sticking out awkwardly to the side” wave.

Usually accompanied by a discomforted “hey”.

4. The “hand perfectly rigid, raised to shoulder level, unmoving” wave.

Usually accompanied by a confused and/or bewildered facial expression. Hostile vibes may flow freely.

5. The “timidly moves quickly, side-to-side, within a quarter-inch space” wave.

This is usually paired with a creepy, no-teeth-showing smile and implies the waver would rather be anywhere else except running into you.

6. The princess’s “hand in a cupped shape, moving stiffly from side to side” wave.

Unless this person is actually Kate Middleton, immediately walk in the opposite direction. This person is suffering from acute princess syndrome and possibly has the mentality of a seven-year-old.

7. The “double-handed getting attention in a vigorous fashion” wave.

Usually seen in a huge crowd of people, which makes it easier to avoid, although sometimes the best route is to acknowledge said person to ease the secondhand embarrassment. Also seen in stressed-out mothers with 5+ kids.

8. The “unbending hand moving in a one solid-motion rainbow shape” wave.

This somewhat intimate wave implies a casual friendship. Usually employed when friends run into each other unexpectedly and there’s no escape because you’ve already spotted each other. You probably want to get out of talking to them as quickly as possible.

Sign language use by Deaf

Sign language users also wave for “hello” and “goodbye.” For an ASL user, saying “goodbye” is done by repeatedly opening and closing the right hand, and it faces the receiver of the gesture. This method is used to say “goodbye” to a group of people; saying “goodbye” to an individual is done with a different method.

Saying “hello” is done by the traditional waving of the right hand. “Hello” is also communicated in ASL with an open palm salute starting at the forehead and moving down to the waist. This method is used to say “hello” to a group of people, likewise with implying “goodbye”, there is a different method to say “hello” to an individual.

What does a two-handed wave mean?

The “double-handed getting attention in a vigorous fashion” wave. Usually seen in a huge crowd of people which makes it easier to avoid although sometimes the best route is to acknowledge said person to ease the secondhand embarrassment.