What is the meaning / intention / desired interpretation from the audience of the body language shown in the images and subsequently described below.

(Note: Placing this question on Russian Language stack exchange is based on my personal speculation that this particular hand / arm gesture is unique to Russians or at least that geo-social section of the world. If this is not the case and I am merely ignorant please point that out and I will promptly delete the question.)

Gesture made by Putin while speaking at a summit recently Gesture often used by Sanda:ku

Specifically, the gesture of:

  • While speaking...
  • raising ones hand approximately chest height,
  • placing the hand in front of (not close to) the side of ones chest,
  • with the palm of the hand facing the chest,
  • the four fingers of the hand aligned together in the same direction,
  • with those four fingers slightly curled in the direction of the speaker
  • and the thumb at a perpendicular angle to those fingers.
  • 1
    No meaning. The gesture is just a Russian prison one, meaning 'you've got to understand what I mean', nothing else.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 1:50
  • 2
    @YellowSky Prison? Could you please elaborate on that?
    – jwalker
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 6:54
  • 2
    @jwalker - All the modern Russian popular culture is deeply infiltrated with the Soviet prison 'culture', it's called "понятия". Putin is long known to be using and publicly demonstrating it, this year they even began to use Soviet prison jargon in the Foreign Ministry press releases and on the UN Security Council sessions. This is appalling.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 11:40
  • 3
    @YellowSky Any evidence this specific gesture comes from Soviet prison "понятия" culture?
    – jwalker
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 12:37
  • 1
    @jwalker - I've never studied body language in detail, so I cannot give you reliable evidence, but from all my life-long experience it's clearly obvious for me. Holding an open hand vertically and moving it to the rhythm of one's speech is typical of criminal 'авторитеты'.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 12:47

2 Answers 2


If we would talk about the first picture, then the gesture is not so specific as you described it. You have to see it in a motion¹ to realise that it’s just waving a hand in accordance with a rhythm of speech, he marks key words by sharp movements (downward), delays hand in pauses and so on; basically, an orator directs his own speech. How high the hand is raised, where is thumb, etc, is not so important, although it might be matter of personal habit or regional peculiarity.

As for the second picture, it hard for me to say confidently what exactly artist tried to depict, if it is from an animated movie, again, you’d better look at it in motion.

¹ I can not say exact time, when this very photo is taken, but Putin uses that kind of gesticulation quite often.

  • 2
    I never considered the motion aspect. The sharp downward movements for emphasis made it very clear as to the intention in Mr Putins case. Strong, confident, assertive body language to reinforce the key words / points.
    – hzen
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 21:48

In addition to Dmitry Alexandrov's answer, the repeating vertical motion discussed in the media has nothing to do with karate or intimidation (this is so ridiculous), it's just like chopping the topic into a series of consecutive points.

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