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The Boston Globe

Ideas

The Word

What’s behind those Occupy hand signals

The power of a gesture language

Occupy Boston and its spiritual cousins across the country have already introduced a few new phrases into the popular lexicon, most notably “the 1%” (meaning an elite who control most of the world’s wealth) and “the 99%” (meaning everybody else, themselves included). And they’ve inspired some riffs on the movement’s name, with satirists calling on others to join an ironic revolution to “occupy” their couches, beds, and even pants.

If you’ve visited the protests, or seen them on television, you may have noticed another, more subtle kind of language emerging from the movement. At the nightly group meeting known as General Assembly, a series of odd hand signals pass through the crowd. While a single person speaks at the head of the group, other members may spontaneously raise two hands above their heads, face their palms forward, and start wagging their fingers back and forth to show they approve. If they disapprove, fingers silently wag downward with palms back. Forearms crossed above the head is called blocking, and it’s the closest the protesters come to shouting down an idea.

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