Political use of hands: An illustrated guide

You might not think much about what your hands are doing as you talk, but you’re probably not running for office. Politicians have to pay careful attention to their body language, and the hands are among the most expressive parts of the human anatomy.

It can take a career to arrive at the right gestures — Martha Coakley and Charlie Baker are still working on theirs — and some elected officials arrive at a trademark move so distinctive that nobody can forget it.

Sometimes, a new generation will even recycle the gesticulations of its forbears.

V for victory


Many people remember Richard Nixon’s expression of confidence at one of his lowest moments. Here he is upon his resignation in 1974.

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But Nixon had been using that move for awhile. At his nomination in 1968, for instance.


And in Paris the following year.


The “V” sign would later become a symbol for peace as part of the movement opposing the Vietnam war. But the sign had been around at least since World War II, as the Washington Post reported in 2011, just as it re-emerged amid the Arab Spring.

Here’s Winston Churchill’s version of the famous gesture.

United Kingdom Government/Public Domain

The Clinton thumb


Nobody who was alive in the 1990s can forget President Bill Clinton’s emphatic, thumb-over-fist expression.


The gesture had made it into wide political use within a few years after Clinton left office. Baker has been known to use a similar motion from time to time.


And so has Coakley.

Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

The Dole pen

When Bob Dole took on Clinton in 1996, he often made public appearances holding a pen in his right hand, a way of dealing with a World War II injury that has affected him throughout his life.


In recent years, Dole has given up the pen and is allowing the injury to show “a little more openly,” Politico reports.

International: The “Merkel-Raute”


German Chancellor Angela Merkel has an eminently recognizable strategy for what to do with her hands in public: she lets them hang at her midsection in the shape of a diamond, fingers interwoven.


The arrangement is so well-known in Germany that it became a part of Merkel’s campaign last year. They call it the “Merkel-Raute,” or Merkel diamond.


Which political hand gestures do you remember best? Let us know in the comments.

Andy Rosen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @andyrosen.