Date: Tue, 7 Oct 1997 16:54:52 -0500


Subject: Re: pop one's fingers

At 02:19 PM 10/3/97 -0400, you (Robert Ness ness[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]DICKINSON.EDU ) wrote:

Some West Africans, Ghanaians especially, "pop their fingers," as it's

called, by flipping or snapping the wrist so that the index finger "pops"

sharply against the thumb and middle-finger. The gesture expresses

surprise or amazement. I've not seen it done here, or even so referred to,

but like West African tooth-sucking (expressive of contempt) it may have

made it across the Atlantic into the south or the Caribbean.

The gesture you describe (where one puts the tips of the thumb and

middle-finger together and then snaps the first finger against them by

sharply moving the wrist downwards) is universally used in Brasil to express

surprise or excitement, positive or negative. Brasilians are unfamiliar with

the way people from the US snap fingers (as described by Joan Houston Hall

in the very first post in this thread), and I have never seen it done the

Brasilian way in the US though that doesn't mean it hasn't been.

Anyway, I didn't mention in my prior post on the "finger pop" phrase that

the context of the song I cited seems to suggest that the gesture expresses

contempt or disdain (i.e., the popper/snapper doesn't care about the person

or situation s/he is popping or snapping at).

See also OED thrip v. (with citations back to the 16C) and "finger-snap"

(under finger n.) for the idea of snapping one's fingers in contempt or to

express worthlessness etc. An electronic search of OED2 for various ways

that "to *pop* the/one's fingers" might have showed up there yielded nothing.

Greg Downing/NYU, at greg.downing[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] or downingg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]


Mexican American children in South Texas schools pop their fingers (as

described by Robert Ness) when holding up their hands in attempting to get

the teacher's attention when a question is asked of the whole class. It is

done with much enthusiasm, accompanied by "Miss" or "Mister." In my memory

it was universal in the 1940s, and I saw the same gesture in 1988 when I

visited a sixth-grade class on the Mexican border.