Finger-lickin' acknowledgment?
July 1, 2008 11:36 AM   Subscribe

Help me find out more about this gesture, where a person licks their finger and either points to the ceiling or draws a line in the air.

I'd like to find out more about the origin of this gesture. It's not hard to deduce it's meaning from the context, but I'd also be interested in a definition of it.

It's easier to show than explain; Viggo Mortensen does it towards the end of this awesome interview with Jon Stewart while Colbert rattles off facts about Aragorn.

Also, here, J.D. [the guy in the white jersey] does it right after he says, "Thank you, football for dummies." [at 0:27]

I've seen it a few other places too, and I've always been curious about it. Links to other instances of this gesture in pop culture also appreciated!
posted by asras to Society & Culture (19 answers total)
I've always interpreted that as someone marking off a point for themselves on an imaginary scoreboard. As to the origins? I dunno.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:51 AM on July 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

The line in the air alludes to marking a scoreboard. I think the licking is a borrowing from a popular 1970s gag where you licked your thumbtip and touched it to your ass while uttering a lingually-plosive sibilant ("tsss") to indicate that your ass was so hot that it had made steam from the wetness of your thumb.
posted by nicwolff at 11:57 AM on July 1, 2008

Similar and perhaps different, is the lick your finger as if to see which way the wind is blowing gesture.
posted by shownomercy at 12:04 PM on July 1, 2008

or perhaps it's simulating the "invisible ink" available for a chalk board....
posted by TuxHeDoh at 12:06 PM on July 1, 2008

You'd lick your finger to make the mark on a chalk covered blackboard.
posted by elle.jeezy at 12:07 PM on July 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah, what elle.jeezy said.
posted by hot soup girl at 12:15 PM on July 1, 2008

I learned that gesture as a kid in the 1950's. Elle.jeezy has it right.

The idea is that you're pretending to make a wet mark on something using saliva on your finger.
posted by Class Goat at 12:15 PM on July 1, 2008

I've always interpreted that as someone marking off a point for themselves on an imaginary scoreboard.

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:19 PM on July 1, 2008

I've always interpreted it to mean that someone was "on fire" similar to nicwolf second explanation.
posted by Kattullus at 12:37 PM on July 1, 2008

Definitely simulating a wet finger adding to the score tally on a chalkboard. This predates the "sizzling fingertip on my sweet ass" motion by many many years...
posted by daveleck at 12:50 PM on July 1, 2008

Response by poster: thanks for your input on the meaning of the gesture. i'd figured the chalkboard thing, but hadn't really thought about the explanation nicwolff gave.

any ideas on the origin of the gesture?
posted by asras at 12:53 PM on July 1, 2008

shownomercy's "which way the wind is blowing" is what I immediately thought of.
posted by BaxterG4 at 12:57 PM on July 1, 2008

In old illustrations you sometimes see people moistening a pencil or fountain pen tip before writing, but I'm not sure this is the origin of your lick-n-draw gesture.
posted by gyusan at 1:53 PM on July 1, 2008

Actually, you can also lick the finger and hold it in the air to see which way the wind was blowing. I've seen this in cartoons so it must be true.
posted by availablelight at 2:09 PM on July 1, 2008

At least three different gestures getting muddled here. The one you are enquiring about is definitely the "Score one for me" gesture.
posted by A189Nut at 2:52 PM on July 1, 2008

Now that I've watched the video, Viggo is clearly using it in the "scoreboard" kind of way, but the one that I was thinking of, now that I've reflected, is always accompanied by a "tsss" indicating that something hot was touched, i.e. someone's "on fire."
posted by Kattullus at 4:20 PM on July 1, 2008

As kids we would "Mark one up so it doesn't drip," licking your finger and drawing a line from bottom to top. It definitely was a scoreboard gesture.
posted by JujuB at 6:14 PM on July 1, 2008

Imaginary scoreboard! A friend of mine got me in the habit of doing this when running a yellow-turning-red traffic light or other somewhat-ill-advised yet successful driving maneuvers. (Imaginary points are posted on the sun visor.)
posted by citron at 9:56 PM on July 1, 2008

The hot gesture also generally sees the rapid withdrawal of the pointed finger, as one would if one had put it on something hot, the scorebaord marking gesture often sees the finger moved slightly down to indicate a line being drawn, though Mortensen in the example tends just to make a point it seems.
posted by biffa at 2:47 AM on July 2, 2008

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