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Shame on You!

This is not exactly a language thing but when you say “Shame on you!”, you brush your index finger against the other. What does that mean? Where did it come from? What does that symbolize?

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The only story behind this one that I have ever heard is that it is supposed to imitate the shaving down of a switch, the implication being that the switch would then be used to impose corporal punishment on the offending party. I do not know if this is accurate or not.

Bob December 6, 2003, 11:47pm

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Ooh, interesting idea. I've never seen anyone do it in real life, and in fact I think I've only ever seen it in Mad Magazine cartoons.

Anonymous December 12, 2003, 8:26am

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Body language and gestures are definitely part of language. However, not everyone you ask will recognise them as such. To test the theory, put your hands in your pockets tomorrow and try to talk sensibly all day without taking them out.
Try a reputable dictionary of body language.

M Stevenson April 11, 2004, 2:41am

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That must be a family idiom, or a regionalism. Here in my family in California, the "shamer" makes a fist, extends and points the index finger at the shamee, and shakes the finger up and down near the shamee's nose.

(I have seen the "shaving" gesture done in fun elsewhere).

ponytrax May 1, 2004, 9:37pm

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I have used this many times over the years, index finger brushing against other index finger...I never knew where this expression came from;just wanted to know, just curious

barbara January 8, 2006, 7:45pm

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I have seen both gestures, but, Liz, I would ask the same question. What does the "shaking the single index finger" gesture mean then? Is that supposed to be using the switch that was fashioned with the other gesture?:)

porsche January 9, 2006, 6:08pm

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