Moutza

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Single moutza.
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Double moutza.


A "moutza", or mountza, (μούντζα) is the most traditional gesture of insult among Greeks which consists of extending all fingers and presenting the palm towards the to-be-insulted person in a forward motion. It is often coupled with the expletives "να" (na), "παρ'τα" (par'ta) or "όρσε" (órse), meaning "here", "take these" and "there you go", respectively.

An even more offensive version is achieved by using both hands to double the gesture, smacking the palm of one hand against the back of the other, in the direction of the intended recipient. The closer the gesture is to the other person's face the more threatening it's considered. The Greek comedienne Rena Vlachopoulou was famous for delivering comical, spirited double moutzes in the films and plays she starred on.

If a Greek wants to hand-signal the number 5 to someone, they take care to face their palm towards themselves and the back of the hand towards the intended recipient of the signal, lest it be misunderstood for a "moutza".

A "minor" form of the moutza is the "V-sign", again presented with a forward motion. This is not insulting as the full gesture is, and it is perceived as a "fake admonishment" joke, e.g. towards a mischievous child.

Closed moutza

A closed (or polite) moutza consists of keeping the tips of all five fingers together and pointing towards the targeted person, this gesture is usual accompanied by the preposition 'na!' (there!). Sometimes this gesture is completed with only three fingers being half opened (thumb, index and middle). Or the targeted person can be called upon to blow on the fingers in order to make them open into a full moutza. In this case it is accompanied by the imperative 'fisa!' (blow!).

Origin

The origin of the gesture can be traced back in particularly in the penal code of Byzantium, whereby a chained criminals was paraded around town sitting, facing backwards on a donkeyback and with their face smeared with cinder to enhance their ridicule. Cinder in medieval Greek was called moutzos (μούντζος). And, because cinder was wiped on the person's face first by collecting it in the palm and then by extending open the fingers, the gesture itself became insulting, to be known as moutza, after the name of the material applied. The modern Greek word "moutzoura" or "mountzoura" (a smear, scribble) has the same origin.

Around the world

In Pakistan showing the palm of the hand to someone is also considered an insult, together with saying "Lanat".

In the Arab Gulf, showing the palms of both hands to someone after clapping them is also considered an insult, together with saying "Malat Alaik". It's usually done by women as it is considered not manly if men do it.

Since the 1990s in North America, a similar gesture is used in Talk to the hand. By showing the palm of the hand, with fingers spread, and saying "Talk to the hand..." is the equivalent of "Shut Up" or that you've had enough.

Bibliography

Phaedon Koukoules, "Life and culture of the Byzantines", addendum 5, 1986

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