Friday, December 09, 2005

Different gestures for 'yes' and 'no' around the world. Also; Ancient Greeks and their naughty bits!

` Well-cultured and uncreative am I today! Thank goodness for Cecil Adams, writer of the column The Straight Dope. He, and now an entire team, are pretty good at finding correct answers to just about any question that can be thrown at them. And, if a reader points out that he happens to have missed something, they often get a zingy response.
` Since I actually subscribe to The Straight Dope online, I figured I'd share this one with you...

` Just how universal is shaking the head associated with 'no' and nodding with 'yes'?

` His answer:

...No less a personage than Charles Darwin looked into it and wrote up his findings in a book called The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). Darwin was interested in finding out whether there were universal gestures and expressions, so he sent out a questionnaire to missionaries and whatnot that, among other things, asked what gesticulations the locals used to convey "yes" and "no." Nodding and head-shaking turned out to be pretty common, but there were some striking exceptions. For example, certain Australian natives, when uttering a negative, "don't shake the head, but holding up the right hand, shake it by turning it half round and back again two or three times." One Captain Speedy--I can't say the name inspires much confidence--told Darwin that the Abyssinians said "no" by jerking the head to the right shoulder and making a slight cluck, while "yes" was expressed by the head being thrown backwards and the eyebrows raised for an instant. The Dyaks of Borneo supposedly raised their eyebrows for "yes" and slightly contracted them, "together with a peculiar look of the eyes," for "no." Eskimoes nodded for "yes" and winked for "no."

The only place I know of where they completely reverse the meaning of our nod and head-shake gestures is Bulgaria. There a nod means no and a shake means yes. One shudders to think of the implications this has for cross-cultural dating in that country. The Turks are almost as confusing--they say "yes" by shaking their heads from side to side, and "no" by tossing their heads back and clucking. Head-tossing for "no" is also common in Greece and parts of Italy, such as Naples, that were colonized or heavily influenced by Greeks in ancient times.

Still, cultures ranging from the Chinese to the natives of Guinea nod and shake their heads like we do, leading Darwin to believe that the gestures were innate to some extent. He noticed that when babies refused food they almost always turned their heads to the side, whereas when they had worked up an appetite they inclined their heads forward in a nodding gesture.

` It goes on, but I'll stop there. Just thought someone or other would think that was interesting. And, for being such loyal readers, I give you a small section of a Straight Dope about Why Penises are Small in Greek Art!

The Greeks weren't shy about displaying their manly attributes. Nudity was celebrated in Greece as in no culture before or since. We're so used to nude classical sculpture and painting that we figure that's how everybody walked around back in those days. In fact, however, male nudity in art and among athletes and warriors was largely confined to the ancient Greeks, for whom it became a point of pride--they considered embarrassment at having to disrobe for sports a sign of barbarism....

...From this vast array of XXX-rated artwork we can make a few deductions about Greek aesthetic preferences, genitaliawise (here I mainly follow Kenneth Dover's landmark study Greek Homosexuality, 1978): (1) Long, thick penises were considered--at least in the highbrow view-- grotesque, comic, or both and were usually found on fertility gods, half-animal critters such as satyrs, ugly old men, and barbarians. A circumcised penis was particularly gross. (2) The ideal penis was small, thin, and covered with a long, tapered foreskin. Dover thinks the immature male's equipment was especially admired, which may account not only for the small size but the scarcity of body hair in classical art. A passage from Aristophanes sums up the most desirable masculine features: "a gleaming chest, bright skin, broad shoulders, tiny tongue, strong buttocks, and a little prick."

` I, for one, second that!

` Not that I've seen any such gorgeous-sounding appendages, and don't expect to.... Nevertheless, I've always thought to myself; 'what's the deal with big, gigantic penises being admired so much nowadays?' I don't get it!! I think if I ever saw such a monstrosity, I might run screaming into the night.
` Okay, perhaps not - but if one was approaching me with a man attached to it, I most certainly would! On the other hand, if a huge penis was approaching me without the rest of the man attached, I'd stab it with a fork and yell; "Har!!"
` Then again, I guess you could say that the most intimate I've been with any man is when this Medina, Ohio gynecologist injured me with his large, freezing-cold probe, resulting in bloodshed. (I won't tell you whose...) As one might guess from a Medina doctor, this guy kept telling me to shut up and stop screaming.
` This minor-yet-delicate trauma may or may not have something to do with my Ancient Greek-like views. I'd vote that it doesn't.

` And while I'm on this subject - as I probably never will be again - I recall something else Cecil wrote which stated that showing the glans of the Ancient Greek Penis was considered to be vulgar, and that the sweaty, naked, wrestling men in gymnasiums (gymnos = 'naked', you see?) were known to tie their foreskins shut to prevent such exposore.
` I suppose this is somewhat sensible, considering that the glans is meant to be an internal structure, barring arousal.... And yet, in modern America, the glans is still generally preferred to be demoted to an external, crusty eyesore by means of the agonizing rip, tear, and snip of the valuable foreskin.
` ...Which, of course, you may be way too aware of from reading my lengthy interview about the detrimental sexual effects of removing this most interesting of erogenous zones.
` Oh, if only Socrates knew about such unreasonable and illogical practices! He'd say; "Sick, dude! Genital mutilation! How dare you cause injury to the most prized male organ? Misandrous barbarians!"
` Heh.
` So, ah... why am I particularly riled about penises and culture again all of a sudden? It wasn't just Cecil - it's also partly because a friend of mine was telling me about how 'her' mother finally admitted the fact that the doctors had noticed 'her' unusually small penis when 'she' was born and just chopped the whole thing off straightaway!
` As a result, my friend's had a really miserable and lousy life being forced to 'act like a girl' - even being referred to as a girl has caused a lot of personal revulsion! Thank goodness for his male nickname!
` Growing up, my friend's mom sometimes made him wear dresses - which confused him as a small child who didn't know 'the difference' between boys and girls - and at around age thirteen, his mother insisted on 'checking' his development, which really weirded him out. Not to mention, he's had catastrophic hormonal problems, and later on, was forced to marry a soulless bastard who repeatedly assaulted him into submission in every way possible.

` Needless to say - but I'll say it anyway - things would have turned out much less traumatic if nobody had interfered. Seriously (or as Cassie says, cereally), I think the Ancient Greeks would have welcomed my unwillingly-transexual friend's natural anatomy, as well as that of all other men, though such acceptance would probably involve much homosexual attention.
` My friend, however, probably would not mind that sort of thing, and I'd bet that most men worldwide would prefer men chasing after them to the Red, White and Blue Penis Control at Birth Brigade.

` Ye-ah. On that note... I'll be back tomorrow with non-genital content. Perhaps more sketches, most assuredly of things that aren't genitals! At all! Ta...


Galtron said...

Woah! I once had a friend myself who was not so lucky to escape the doctors and their 'Genital Quality Control.' Unfortunately, he can't be my friend anymore because the depressed idiot killed himself!

Damn him!

It's really wieird how some people can be spooked about ambiguous-looking nether regions. Some people think that hacking them into a recognizeable shape will give their owners more self-esteem when they become aware of "the problem". Yeah right! I sure as heck wouldn't let anyone do that to me no matter how 'disfigured' I was! Same with him, but it was too late for him to make that decision.

S E E Quine said...

` Wow, I'm sorry to hear about your friend. In some ways, I don't blame him for being an 'idiot'; however the status of martyrdom - intentional or unintentional - is generally the worst move one could make.
` It definitely doesn't improve your health. And it's just sad.

` As for the terrible crime committed against him in the first place, you can be sure that it was caused by the culturally-conditioned inability of 'authorities' to distinguish between things 'abnormal-but-harmless' and things 'unhealthy'. It is one of the major fallacies of human beings, wouldn't you say?

` Granted, I figure it's fine to drill an extra hole if a kid is peeing into its malformed vagina - you can't really live like that - and that's called a health issue! As far as I know, most of the time there is no real immediate medical harm in letting the kid grow up and see what it's like without doing anything to them.
` Why can't this be done very often? Culture.

` I think that the only "problem" such a kid would ever really have is the type that might ensue if the wrong kind of people found out... You know, the kind who might want to kick hermaphrodite, gay, etc. ass out of fear that such a thing exists!
` This is called a 'cultural issue', and concerns other people. A child should not be burdened into thinking that they are 'bad' because other people think so, now, can they?
` Of course, bigots are losers anyway; they are just one more manifestation of the brilliance some humans show in distorting and dismissing reality out of the sense that mirrors of themselves are threatened.

` Reminds me of my new motto: 'Denial is for dumbasses!' Likee?

cassie d said...

this is a little off the subject, but as far as sexual roles in society goes, the book Middlesex tells the story of a hermaphodite and the struggles with gender identity. i highly suggest picking it up at your local library.
Did i sound like reading rainbow?

Amber said...

Well, in it's own way, so does Orlando.

S E E Quine said...

` I'll go see if they have that one. Sounds interesting.

Galtron said...

Heh heh, likee motto.