03/24/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Changing Gestures Are Signs of the Times

I didn't have a blog when I first noticed this. So I'm writing about it now. What "it" is, I'll return to shortly.

Things change. Fashion is constantly on the move. Wide ties, narrow ties; short shirts, shorter skirts. This is nothing new. Changing fashion has been with us forever. (Men's hats with buckles, men's hats without buckles.)

Sometimes, the changes in fashion are behavioral. For example, for the majority of my lifetime, you held a closed fist up to your ear, and it meant, "I'll call you." The simulation mimicked using a landline telephone, where you hold the receiver to your ear.

Everyone understood what it meant: closed fist to the ear means "I'll call you." Not to say that the miming technique began with the telephone. I imagine, before telephones, people rapidly jiggled their pointer finger, and it meant, "I'll telegraph you." And before that, people mimed using a feather, indicating, "I'll write you." Of course, I don't know for certain they did that. I wasn't there.

With the advent of cell phones, the "I'll call you" signal inevitably changed. "I'll call you" was now, hand to the ear, with the three middle fingers curled under, the "pinkie" finger pointing downward, and the thumb pointing up.

Since I rarely leave the house, I have little use for cell phones. As a result, I find myself still using the old "I'll call you" signal. The problem is, when I use that signal, especially with younger people, they don't know what I'm doing. To them, I'm a guy holding my fist to my ear.

Probably quite soon, with cell phones quickly being bumped into obsolescence by iPhones, the "I'll call you" signal will change again, the thumb-up-pinkie-down gesture supplanted by an empty hand held to the ear in a claw-like configuration, approximating a five-tentacled octopus attacking the side of your face.

When this changeover takes place, I will officially be two "I'll call you's" behind.

I have a hard time pinpointing the precise moment that fashion changes occur. They seem to show up out of the blue, like the new Yellow Pages Maybe some cultural icon gets the ball rolling, and it eventually filters down to the rest of us. I mean, it's not like there's an announcement in the paper, or some massive e-mailing:

"We're doing 'I'll call you' like this now. Pass it on."

Of course, I get the reason for this fashion change. Change of technology, change of "I'll call you." There's an understandable rationale behind it.

On the other hand, here's a change that, at least to me, has no rationale whatsoever. (This is the thing I'd have written about if I'd had a blog when I first noticed it.)

Growing up, I watched a ton of cowboy movies and TV shows. I watched war movies. I watched gangster pictures and detective series. As a regular viewer of mayhem (though never the most violent versions), I witnessed hundreds, possibly thousands, of people firing guns. They always did it the same way. They pointed the gun at whomever they were trying to kill, and they pulled the trigger. This seemed to work pretty well.

For decades, centuries, if you're talking about real life, people seemed entirely happy with this technique. You point the gun; you pull the trigger.

Then, one day, it all changed.

At some un-pin-down-able moment in time, shooters continued to pull the trigger. But before they did so, they turned their guns


It doesn't make sense. As a result of my years playing with toy cowboy guns, combined with all my movie and TV watching, I am aware that at the end of most--maybe all--gun barrels, there's this thing sticking up from the top of it called a sight. You use it for aiming. It helps you hit things.

If you flip your gun sideways, the "sight" goes sideways too. At which point, it becomes entirely useless.

Now, if shooting your gun from a sideways position makes aiming more difficult - and I have to believe it does - what exactly is the advantage of shooting your gun sideways?

I can't believe this innovation originated in movies and television. I imagine that, just before the Big Shootout was about to be filmed, some "consultant" hired to add authenticity to the proceedings took the director aside and said, "On 'The Street', they turn the guns sideways."

And the director went, "Cool."

After which he instructed his actors--at least the ones playing the criminals--to shoot their guns sideways.

This explanation, however, simply moves the question back a step. Why did they decide to shoot their guns sideways on "The Street"?

It's possible the change resulted from the fact that, during some real-life gun battle, someone shooting sideways had a really good day. Maybe, in the heat of battle, some participant momentarily went crazy, they swiveled their gun-holding wrist ninety degrees to the left, and, more through luck than this altered position, they mowed down a substantial number of people.

The story inevitably got around, and "sideways" rapidly became the shooting method of choice. The fact that it rarely worked was irrelevant. When "fashion" takes hold, the negative consequences become secondary. (Think about six-inch heels.) You do it because it's "the latest thing."

And yet, at some point, you'd think there'd be a "Reality Check." During the aftermath of their most recent gunfight, when they're taking stock of how things went, you'd think somebody might observe, "We hardly killed anybody. Why are we shooting sideways?"

I'm really interested in how this gun-fighting technique attained its cachet, and why, despite its ineffectiveness, it remains popular. You know I'm always grateful to hear from any of you. But today, I'm appealing specifically to my gangsta readers. Clue me in, gangsta readers: Whassup with the "sideways?"

Earl Pomerantz's blog, "Just Thinking"can be reached at