Fingers Crossed

We cross our arms, our legs, and some people even cross their eyes. We'll look at these actions briefly, but first, where does the custom of crossing fingers come from?

(This page gives you more than enough to bore the socks off your dinner companions, who probably cross their fingers hoping they don't sit next to you again!)

Fingers Crossed

Crossed fingers

As with the Sign of the Cross, the Fingers Crossed action is used when the person feels the need for good luck, courage or protection. Most people accept that crossing fingers is a silly superstition, yet is it very common, in both action and even uttering "Fingers crossed". But when did it originate?

Crossing the first two fingers is a good luck sign recognised around the world. It is, however, not so common in Buddhist and Muslim cultures, suggesting that the symbol's origin is Christian and was imported to Asian countries along with other Western ideas, food, fashion, technology, karaoke... (OK, not karaoke).

Hand fish
It seems reasonable to assume that Early Christians made the sign of the cross with their fingers, or perhaps this sign of the fish, to identify themselves to one another

We have no reliable evidence to support this, but one theory goes that during the early days when Christianity was illegal, the crossing of fingers was a secret sign for Christians to recognise each other. Yet whilst the Sign of the Cross has evolved into a good luck symbol and retained its Christian meaning, Fingers Crossed has lost any Christian connection.

This change of emphasis may have begun during the so-called 'Hundred Years War' between France and England (1337-1457). An archer would cross his first and second fingers, pray or wish for luck, and then draw back his longbow string with those same fingers. Maybe.

Another theory suggests that the sign pre-dates Christianity, when it was believed that benign spirits dwelt at the intersecting point of the cross, as in the Solar Cross. In Europe, the sign was made by two people; the first to make the wish and the second to support it. Linking their fingers firmly would squeeze and energize the spirits into beneficial action. Maybe.

In China, crossing the index and middle fingers is the sign for the number ten, which happens to coincide with the Chinese and Japanese written character for ten, which is ju. (The origin of this character is usually, yet erroneously, explained as two lines crossing to symbolise the four main directions, which in turn expressed the concept of completeness and by association all the fingers, i.e. ten. However, this seems a confused version of its actual origin. It derives from a depiction of a sewing needle with thread passing through the eye, and was used as a substitute for the more complex character ju, meaning 'hands together', i.e. ten fingers.)

The Roman numeral for ten (decem) is X, so one might expect that when deaf people communicate in sign language, crossed fingers spell the value ten or the alphabet letter X. But that is not the case. Deaf people sign ten with two actions (to mimic a '1' and a '0') and the letter X is signed with a curved index finger.

Crossed fingers in Swedish sign (Svenska Handalfabetet) do spell the letter 'X' but in other alphabets, the sign spells the letter R in English, Я (ya) in Russian (Cyrillic), Hiragana for 'ra' (ra) in Japanese (hiragana), and the first half of Hangul for 'ss' (ss) in Korean (Hangul).

You see we were right with our comment at the top of this page: You can really bore the socks off people with this information.

And here's something else you can do with crossed fingers: The Aristotle Illusion

Cross your fingers, then touch a small spherical object such as a dried pea, and it feels like you are touching two peas. This also works if you touch your nose.

This is an example of what is called "perceptual disjunction". It arises because your brain has failed to take into account that you have crossed your fingers. Because the pea (or nose) touches the outside of both fingers at the same time – something that rarely happens – your brain interprets it as two separate objects.

Source: New Scientist

Crossed Arms

Of course, fingers are not the only things we cross for a specific reason. Body linguists might say crossed arms are a defensive posture and if arms are crossed over the upper chest, this shows the person is holding back something, perhaps anger. Or maybe the person is just cold.

Crossed Legs

Crossed legs are supposed to imply the person is closed to ideas. Alternatively, the person may have back-ache which is relieved by crossing the legs.

Crossed Eyes

Crossed eyes just means the person has strabismus. Abraham Lincoln and Barbra Streisand are some of the many famous people with this condition. British comedian Marty Feldman made a fortune with it. (See also All-Seeing Eye Cross)

...and back to Crossed Fingers

Custom has it that if you keep your fingers crossed you may lie with impunity. Therefore, we can say with complete honesty that all the information on this page is absolutely 100% definitely and unquestionably true!

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