For those of a certain age, it has long been the failsafe gesture of the restaurant diner who wants to pay. But, in a sign of these digital times, the exaggerated air scribble is on its way out. Its demise is due to a younger generation who have never had to sign anything to settle a bill.
As a copywriter, it’s important for me to keep up with communication trends so my writing is relevant and relatable. So this was interesting news.
According to linguists, hand gestures that relate to outdated technology, such as holding a finger and thumb to the ear and mouth to mimic a telephone (“Call me”) will soon be obsolete.
For Generation Z, born after the turn of the century, many movements widely used and recognised by their parents are meaningless. Dr Vyvyan Evans, a linguistics professor, said, “Gestures that are specific to particular devices will only be recognised by those who are familiar with such devices. As technology changes, they lose their value.”
This means, like the air scribble, several other gestures could be on the way out. These include making a circular movement with our hand to indicate the winding up or down of a car window. We now do this by simply pressing a button. Another is tapping our wrist to refer to time. Understandably, such gestures mystify young people. “Younger generations just will not know what these gestures are,” Dr Evans explained. “Landlines that you picked up and held in a particular way are rarely used. People use smartphones now and they are held very differently.”
Similarly, the traditional way of indicating a film in the game charades, by miming an old-fashioned camera reel, will go the same way. As people are no longer exposed to such technology, the emblems associated with them drop out of usage.
Dr Adam Schembri, a reader in linguistics at the University of Birmingham, agrees that, like words, certain symbolic gestures will evolve or disappear with time. “My 18-year-old students understand the landline phone gesture, for example, but the landline is still within their lived experience so they can make that connection,” he said. “It might be that in the future, when people have no lived experience of these things, such gestures are used less and less as they become less meaningful. There are undoubtedly gestures that we no longer use that are not understood.”
This makes perfect sense but the realisation does make me feel very old.
What other gestures can you think of that no longer make any sense? Share them below! And if you need professional help communicating to people of any age, please get in touch.