This is how Johnny Damon chose to celebrate teammate Nick Swisher's home run on Monday against the Rays. We've seen this before, of course. Still, the mystery remains: What ever could this gesture mean? The I-Team is on the case.
On first glance, it looks to be the classic sign of the horns so beloved of Slayer fans and certain residents of Texas, with perhaps a vulgar twist. But you'll notice the extended thumb. This seemingly minor detail turns the gesture into the ASL sign for "I love you."
We contacted Pete Abraham, the Journal News' excellent Yankees beat guy and proprietor of The LoHud Yankees Blog. He traces the gesture's roots to spring training, a slack time of year particularly suited to developing nonverbal modes of communication. Swisher is very likely the originator, as evidenced by this photo (note the index fingers, however):
Abraham, on our behalf, asked Swisher about its meaning. "It doesn't mean anything," Swisher said. "Just something we do. Rock and roll, I guess."
But surely there's more to it than that. For further elaboration, we showed the photos to David McNeill, professor emeritus of psychology and linguistics at the University of Chicago, who is writing a book about the role of gesture in the development of language. He e-mails:
Your guess (the 'horn' - meaning evil eye, cuckold) seems good to me. That is, I think it's a kind of contempt gesture. This, combined with the tongue sticking out, plus the home run context, makes me think that the whole constellation is a gesture of triumph plus derision. ... The two live-action Damon examples differ from the original in interesting ways. First of all, he combines hand and face into a single gesture, whereas the original had them as two gestures (how you count gestures is somewhat arbitrary, but I mean there is more integration in the Damon versions). Second, he has three fingers extended, one more than the original. This interests me, and I think it may be an adjustment to having combined hand and face. If you try to do that with the hand in the original 'horn' gesture form, it's quite difficult, but by folding his index and second finger under his chin, and extending the ring and first fingers, he makes a nice chin cup; then the extended thumb is really unnecessary but was part of the original 'horn' and is quite awkward to fold in to get rid of, so it is still there, too. So Damon has transformed the gesture into a true symbol, with parts working together.
"Triumph and derision" is a fairly succinct summary of the Yankee Way. I-Team's conclusion: The gesture is a commingling of all of the above — a symbol of rock 'n' roll, triumph, derision. And, perhaps, one Yankee outfielder's taste for cunnilingus.