Ideas | François Caradec and Philippe Cousin

Lend me your ear: A compilation of gestures from around the world

Humans have a mere two ears. But add a hand, and there’s no end to the subtle meanings we can communicate. In compiling his “Dictionary of Gestures: Expressive Comportments and Movements in Use Around the World,” the French writer François Caradec looked around the world for distinct ideas that people use their bodies to communicate. Caradec died in 2008, but a new English-language edition of his reference work, with illustrations by Philippe Cousin, is out this month from MIT Press. Here are a few examples from his list of gestures involving the ear.


Philippe Cousin

Scratching one’s ear with the opposite hand passed behind one’s head

North Africa: A contortion signifying that a situation is uselessly complicated

Philippe Cousin

Touching one’s ear with the fingers of the hand clustered together


Mediterranean world, England: “Be careful, someone’s listening”

Philippe Cousin

Slight taps to the earlobe with the index finger

Russia: Antipathy

Philippe Cousin

Tapping one’s ear with a finger

Turkey: A gesture that brings luck, similar to “knock on wood”

Philippe Cousin

Holding and gently wiggling the earlobe

Portugal, Brazil: Pleasure; an exquisite flavor. “It’s delicious.”

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