A Note to Politicians: 'Hands Down'
It used to be jokingly said that if you tied the hands of Italians, they couldn’t talk. Now the condition appears to be an epidemic among those who speechify, particularly politicians.
Being of Italian extraction, Nancy Pelosi might be forgiven for her excessive use of hand gestures. But she tends to saw the air to such an extent that the focus is on the hands, not on what she has to say. Perhaps that is for the best.
Challenge: watch the guests on the news channels and see if any of them manages to keep his or her hands even occasionally on the table. (No, not under it.) This is best done by turning off the sound. Hillary appears everywhere these days, so she will be easy to observe. Her hands are in constant motion. She begins by greeting her adoring crowds with arms (hands attached) spread wide. She uses her ten digits not just to emphasize important points, but to underscore her entire dialogue, the way a conductor uses a baton to guide music.
The employment of gratuitous gestures is becoming as widespread as the use of annoying clichés like “At the end of the day” or “The bottom line is.”
After careful observation, it would seem that these gestures can be whittled down into a few general categories:
- Hands extended outward with palms up, suggesting, “Here is my bountiful wisdom. Come and embrace it.”
- Hands manipulated downward, palms also down, as if the speaker is putting the subject to bed and tamping down the covers. This gives a sense of finality: “Well, that’s it. End of discussion.”
- One or more fists clenched, moving up and down, thumbs extended, as if priming a pump. Used mostly at times of greatest agitation.
- Scissoring both hands, like butterfly wings, a gesture best used by those who presume they have the grace of a hula dancer.
- One or more hands sawing through the air, a distinct favorite of Ms. Pelosi’s, intended to add gravitas to her palaver.
How did we get to the point of buttressing oratory with an excess of meaningless sign language? Is this a habit carried forward from the ‘60s, when that generation waved its arms and clapped its hands in sympathy with cult figures and the message of their songs? Is all this movement done intentionally to attract attention, or is it an unconscious, perhaps even nervous habit? And is anyone else bothered by it?
The terrible thing is that it appears to be catching, like (pun intended) a communicative disease. The mouth opens, and the hands spring into action, orchestrating with the tongue. Nancy bangs the side of her manicured hand on the lectern by way of emphasis, giving the impression she’s slicing a nonexistent chub of bologna. Then she shakes her bejeweled hands up and down as though she were drying out a dish towel, an analogy unsuitable in her case.
It will be interesting to see if Hillary’s opponent(s) in the 2016 election feel compelled to receive some hand training in advance of the debates. Or perhaps it has reached that point where watching hands move to and fro is all that keeps the electorate from dozing off.
Whatever the reason, gesturing is rampant on the podiums of America. But short of tying hands, what can be done about it?