Wag of the finger

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"Scolding", drawing by Barbossasdaughter (2009).

A wag of the finger at a person is a gesture that is associated with scolding of a naughty child. There are several variants with different connotations, some of which are culture dependent.

  1. Pointing with the index finger at the recipient, finger rocking sideways: "You're being naughty, but I'm not angry"
  2. Pointing with the index finger at the recipient, finger rocking up and down: "You're naughty and I'm angry" (as used in Colbert Report's section Tip of the hat/Wag of the finger
  3. Pointing with the index finger up, palm towards the recipient, rocking sideways like a metronome: "No"
  4. Pointing with the index finger up, back of the hand facing the recipient, shaking the hand: "You are naughty and deserve punishment"

The other hand is sometimes put on the hip while doing the gesture.

Wag is also a verb referring to truancy in Australian slang.

Gesture variants[edit]

Wagging sideways (a)[edit]

With the palm facing the recipient, the index finger waggles alternatingly from left to right, like a metronome. Alternatively, the finger can remain rigid while the entire hand bends to the left and right at the wrist. The gesture is also known as the "tsk-tsk" or the "no-no" gesture, and is used to signify disapproval.

Wagging sideways (b)[edit]

When the same gesture is done with the back of the hand facing the recipient, it takes on a more admonitory connotation. It means something like "you are naughty" when used by a parent towards the child. It is rarely used in other contexts or towards an adult.

The presence, or absence, of a smile usually tells whether the gesture is meant friendly, jokingly or serious.

Wagging foward/back[edit]

In this variant, the palm faces sideways and the index finger is shaked toward the interlocutor and back several times. When this gesture is used by an adult toward the child, means "do not do this, or I will punish you". This is known as "noo-noo-noo" gesture in Russia and in Israel, and as a "finger wag" in the United States. The gesture is intuitively understood to have a threatening meaning. The finger might symbolize, or remind one of, a stick.

The gesture is also used to add visual emphasis to important words in a lecture or scolding.