Gestures including 'what's the time?' face dying out

Gestures including 'what's the time?' face dying out

October 6, 2020

A sign of the times? Gestures including ‘what’s the time?’ and ‘give me the bill’ face dying out as they make no sense to the young

  • Gestures are specific to particular devices and so lose value as tech changes 
  • Another gesture under threat is the stretched fingers to the ear to show a phone
  • Dr Evans said young people simply do not know what the gestures are
  • They do not use landlines regularly and many do not wear watches

Gestures including ‘what’s the time?’ and ‘give me the bill’ could die out because young people do not understand them, linguists have said. 

Professor of linguistics and communications expert Vyv Evans said the gestures that have a specific meaning, which are known as emblems, are often specific to individual cultures or generations. 

He said they are specific to particular devices and so lose their value as technology changes.

Another motion which is under threat has been one of the most popular in the western world for decades: a hand to the ear with the little finger and thumb extended to symbolise a phone. 

Gestures including ‘what’s the time?’ and ‘give me the bill’ could die out because young people do not understand them, linguists have said

Similarly, the circular motion used to indicate the winding up or down of a car window is on its way out. 

And the writing in the air motion to indicate to restaurant staff that a diner is ready for the bill will also be consigned to history as cheque books become less and less common.  

Dr Evans told The Telegraph: ‘Younger generations just will not know what these signals are.

‘Red phone boxes are all but disappearing from the streets, landlines that you picked up and held in a particular way are rarely used.

‘People use smartphones now and they are held very differently.’

A recent viral video showed New York father-of-two Daniel Alvarado demonstrating that his children use a flat palm to the side of their face to indicate a mobile phone.  

A recent viral video showed New York father-of-two Daniel Alvarado demonstrating that his children use a flat palm to the side of their face to indicate a mobile phone 


First, he approached his wife Marciella, asking her to show the hand gesture she’d use to pretend she was talking on the phone. Unsurprisingly, Marciella held her thumb and pink to her eat and mouth 

He then approached his daughter Daniella, who was busy playing on her own phone on the couch 

When he told her to show him the gesture she’d use, Daniella held a completely flat hand up to the side of her face, the palm facing her ear 

‘This is how you know you’re getting old,’ Daniel said in the viral clip, which was viewed nearly two million times in just a day in July.

First, he approached his wife Marciella, asking her to show the hand gesture she’d use to pretend she was talking on the phone.

Unsurprisingly, Marciella held her thumb and pink to her eat and mouth. 

He then approached his daughter Daniella, who was busy playing on her own phone on the couch.

When he told her to show him the gesture she’d use, Daniella held a completely flat hand up to the side of her face, the palm facing her ear.

He gave the same prompt to his teen son Kamilo, who was also playing on his phone. 

Kamila did the same flat-handed gesture as his sister. 

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