Półrocznik Językoznawczy Tertium/ Tertium Linguistic Journal

Vol 5, No 2 (2020)

“Horns Up!” The Horned Hand as the Emblematic Gesture of the Metal Subculture

Adam Nowakowski


The horned hand is a gesture completed by extending the forefinger and little finger, while holding the middle two fingers down with the thumb. In years past it has been a subject of many discussions, held by researchers working in various fields of science. However, to the best of my knowledge, the role it plays in nonverbal communication between members of the metal subculture still remains a rather uncharted area. This article is an attempt to shed some light on this topic. It presents a definition of an emblematic gesture, based on the works of David Efron, Paul Ekman, William Friesen and Lluís Payrató. It also gives an account of the semiotic diversity of the horned hand (depending on a culture, the gesture can communicate very different messages, ranging from insults and threats to protection from evil). It was established, based on numerous discussions with the so-called metalheads, that they are able to convey five different meanings using the gesture: 1) indicate affiliation with heavy metal music and/or subculture, 2) display identity and/or community, 3) greet each other, 4) bid each other farewell, 5) display appreciation/respect. Research survey showed that more than 70% of respondents, who consider themselves knowledgeable about the metal subculture, were able to derive a message matching exactly or almost exactly the message intended by the encoder, which allows to declare the emblematic status of the horned hand. However, subjects not familiar with the subculture were much less successful with this task. This shows that gesture’s emblematic status is restricted to members of the metalhead community.



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