18 Dramatic Ways to Express Yourself with Gestures, According to a 19th Century Book

In 1846, Dr. Andrew Comstock published A system of elocution, with special reference to gesture, to the treatment of stammering, and defective articulation, comprising numerous diagrams, and engraved figures, illustrative of the subject. The book was, he wrote, "designed for the use of Schools and Colleges, as well as for the instruction of private individuals who desire to improve themselves in the art of reading and speaking." The book includes not just instructions and exercises in articulation, pitch, force, and time, but also gestures to use when expressing certain emotions or feelings (largely sourced, Comstock explains, from Gilbert Austin's Chironomia, or a Treatise on Rhetorical Delivery). Normally, you'd use these while on stage, but feel free to employ them in your everyday life, too.

1. Reproach

To convey reproach, Comstock writes that a person must "[put] on a stern aspect: the brow is contracted, the lip is turned up with scorn, and the whole body is expressive of aversion." This particular figure, Henry VIII's Queen Katharine, is "reproaching Wolsey for the injuries which had been heaped upon her." Why this requires a hand in the air is unclear.

2. Apprehension

"Apprehension is the prospect of future evil accompanied with uneasiness of mind," Comstock writes. Take, for example, this illustration, which "represents Hamlet in the act of exclaiming, 'Ay, there's the rub.'"

3. Terror

There are many ways to express terror, which "excites the person who suffers under it, to avoid the dreaded object, or to escape from it," Comstock writes. "If it be some dangerous reptile on the ground, and very near, the expression is represented by starting back and looking downwards. If the danger threaten from a distance, the terror arising is expressed by looking forwards, and not starting back, but merely in the retired position. But if the dread of impending death from the hand of an enemy awaken this passion, the coward flies." This particular figure shows a man who is terrified of lightning and thunder, who "shuts his eyes, covers them with one hand and extends the other behind him, as if to ward off the dreaded stroke."

4. Horror

"Horror," Comstock writes, "is aversion or astonishment mingled with terror." To portray it, a person must not retreat, but "[remain] in one attitude, with the eyes riveted on the object, the arms, with the hands vertical, held forward to guard the person, and the whole frame trembling."

5. Listening Fear

A person experiencing listening fear, as this figure supposedly shows, is listening to obtain information. He "first casts the eye quickly in the apparent direction of the sounds," Comstock writes. "[I]f nothing is seen, the ear is turned towards the point of expectation, the eye is bent on vacancy, and the arm is extended, with the hand vertical." All of this should happen in just a quick moment, and if many sounds are coming from different areas at the same time, Comstock advises that the person hold both hands up, while "the face and eyes alternately change from one side to the other with a rapidity governed by the nature of the sound; if it be alarming, with trepidation; if pleasing, with gentle motion." At which point it probably wouldn't be "listening fear" anymore, but something else entirely.

6. Admiration

Admiration of a landscape cannot be completely expressed with words or facial expressions. Instead, Comstock writes, a person expressing it "holds both hands vertical, and across, and then moves them outwards to the position extended as in the figure," as in the figure above. "In admiration arising from some extraordinary or unexpected circumstances, the hands are thrown up supine elevated, together with the face and the eyes."

7. Veneration

This one is easy: "Veneration crosses both hands on the breast, casts down the eyes slowly, and bows the head."

8. Deprecation

Though you're typically expressing disapproval when you deprecate someone, you'd never know it by this gesture, which "advances in the extended position of the feet, approaching to kneeling, clasps the hands forcibly together, throws back the head, sinking it between the shoulders, and looks earnestly up to the person implored."

9. Appealing to Heaven

This gesture looks a lot like reproach, but with a happier face."[T]he right hand is laid on the breast, then the left is projected supine upwards," Comstock writes. "[T]he eyes are first directed forwards, and then upwards. In the appeal to conscience, the right hand is laid on the breast, the left drops unmoved, the eyes are fixed upon the person addressed; sometimes both hands press the breast." 

10. Shame in the Extreme

"Shame in the extreme sinks on the knee, and covers the eyes with both hands," Comstock writes. What would regular shame look like, I wonder?

11. Resignation Mixed with Desperation

"Resignation mixed with desperation," Comstock writes, "stands erect and unmoved, the head thrown back, the eyes turned upward, and fixed, the arms crossed." This pose reads more dignified than resigned and desperate to me, but I'm not an expert. 

12. Grief Arising from Sudden and Afflicting Intelligence

This isn't your regular sadness. To express it, a person must "[cover] the eyes with one hand, [advance] forwards, and [throw] back the other hand."

13. Mild Resignation

"Mild resignation falls on the knee, crosses the arms on the breast, and looks forwards and upwards towards heaven," Comstock writes.

14. Surprise

"Surprise causes the body and lower limbs to retire, and affection stimulates the person to advance," Comstock writes. This figure shows a character from a German play who "unexpectedly sees his dear friend. He withdraws, in surprise, his body and lower limbs, and, in the ardor of friendship, immediately stretches forwards his head and his arms."

15. Melancholy

Get ready to mope: Melancholy, "a feeble and passive affection," Comstock writes, "is attended by a total relaxation of the muscles, with a mute and tranquil resignation, unaccompanied by opposition either to the cause or the sensibility of the evil. The character, externally, is languor, without motion, the head hanging at the 'side next the heart." The eyes should be fixed upon the object of this melancholy, but, if the object isn't there, "fixed upon the ground, the hands hanging down by their own weight, without effort, and joined loosely together."

16. Anxiety

The polar opposite of melancholy, anxiety is restless and active, and manifested "by the extension of the muscles," Comstock writes. "[T]he eye is filled with fire, the breathing is quick, the motion is hurried, the head is thrown back, the whole body is extended. The sufferer is like a sick man, who tosses incessantly, and finds himself uneasy in every situation."

17. Distress, When Extreme

"Distress, when extreme," Comstock writes, "lays the palm of the hand upon the forehead, throws back the head and body, and retires with a long and sudden step." This is a less extreme version of grief arising from sudden and afflicting intelligence.

18. Self-Sufficiency

"Self-sufficiency folds the arms, and sets himself on his center," Comstock writes, noting that "this was a favorite posture of [Napoleon] Bonaparte." 

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9 Smiley Facts About Emoji

For many people, speaking in emoji is almost as natural as speaking in, well, words. However, less than two decades ago, the collection of symbols was just a blip on the digital horizon. You may be adept at planning dinner with friends using only smileys and food characters, but how much do you really know about emoji?


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In 1999, the Japanese designer Shigetaka Kurita created the first collection of cell phone emoji for the debut of "the world’s first major mobile internet system," called NTT Docomo's i-mode. The program they were working with "limited users to up to 250 characters in an email," according to Kurita, "so we thought emoji would be a quick and easy way for them to communicate. Plus using only words in such a short message could lead to misunderstandings … It’s difficult to express yourself properly in so few characters." He used a variety of everyday symbols, Chinese characters, street signs, and manga imagery for inspiration, and eventually came up with 176 12-pixel by 12-pixel characters—a much-simplified version of the images we now text on a regular basis.

"At first we were just designing for the Japanese market," Kurita said in 2016. "I didn’t assume that emoji would spread and become so popular internationally. I’m surprised at how widespread they have become. Then again, they are universal, so they are useful communication tools that transcend language."


Seriously. Digital Trends reported on the dispute in 2014, when some users were so incensed over the lack of a hot dog emoji that they even petitioned the White House to make it happen. As it turns out, there is a very good reason that the character wasn’t initially created.

"The problem with the hot dog emoji," Mark Davis, co-founder of the Unicode Consortium, told The Wall Street Journal, "is, what do you then want with the hot dog? Would we do one with ketchup or without?" He makes a valid point—toppings are important. But Kurita wasn’t opposed to adding in the traditional stateside cuisine: "In Japan, we have onigiri [rice ball] emoji, so why not hot dogs? Hot dogs are onigiri for Americans, right?"

(Not to worry—the hot dog won out in 2015, and Apple now has a mustard-covered emoji.)


"People of all ages understand that a single emoji can say more about their emotions than text," Kurita recently said of his creation. "Emoji have grown because they meet a need among mobile phone users. I accept that it’s difficult to use emoji to express complicated or nuanced feelings, but they are great for getting the general message across." However, even he acknowledges that messages can get mixed when it comes to emoji like the heart, even though he initially designed the heart to mean "love."

"I wouldn’t know if she liked me or not," Kurita told the Verge, when asked what he thinks receiving a heart emoji means, "but I’d think it was a good thing. I wouldn’t think it was a negative."


In 2009, Fred Benenson—Kickstarter’s second full-time employee—used his company's platform to fund an emoji-translation project, which he titled Emoji Dick. Benenson was an avid fan of emoji and wanted to find a way to push the characters' creativity. He raised more than $3500 to pay a team to help him translate Herman Melville’s saga of man and whale into emoji. While it doesn’t quite translate in each case, Benenson told Smithsonian magazine, "As a conceptual piece, it’s successful."

But why Moby-Dick, besides the translation’s fantastic title? "I needed a public domain book that I could get the plain-text version of easily," Benenson told The New Yorker. "The Bible seemed too obvious."

These days, Emoji Dick has a place in the Library of Congress, who acquired the work in 2014 and notes that it captures the culture in this particular moment in time. "It’s up to the readers of Emoji Dick to decide whether to take it seriously as content," Michael Neubert, a digital projects specialist at the Library of Congress, said.

If you’re looking for some light reading, you can purchase a copy of the 736-page translation here.


Keeping in mind that emoji launched in 1999, long before cell phones developed into the tech-savvy devices we have today, emoji originally had much different purposes. For example, The New York Times explains that Docomo, the company that developed emoji, used them to deliver weather reports to pager users.

While this explains many of the weather-related emoji, such as the lightning bolt, sun, umbrella, and snowman, Docomo also used the characters to guide users to local businesses. A hamburger represented fast food, while the martini glass stood for a bar.

"Everything was shown by text. Even the weather forecast was displayed as 'fine,'" Kurita told Storify. "When I saw it, I found it difficult to understand. Japanese TV weather forecasts have always included pictures or symbols to describe the weather—for example, a picture of sun meant 'sunny' … I'd rather see a picture of the sun, instead of a text saying 'fine.'"


The most popular emoji vary from country to country. In July 2016, Metro reported that Twitter ran some analytics and says the "despairing crying face" is the most-used in the United States, Canada, and the U.K. Another popular choice is the musical notes, which is a top pick in Colombia, Brazil, and Argentina.

Additionally, Twitter users tend to favor the beer emoji over the steaming cup of coffee, and that the full heart is tweeted more frequently than the broken heart. When it comes to food, the birthday cake is most-used, followed by the classic slice of pizza, and the strawberry rounds out the top three.

The popularity of emoji is constantly in flux, so Twitter even did a month-by-month breakdown. Unsurprisingly, the skull was most-used in October, while the Christmas tree owned December. Another classic, the "100" symbol, was the most popular in November.


In 2012, New York magazine interviewed Willem Van Lancker, who helped create 400 of the original 500 Apple characters. (The conversation took place over text, naturally.) When asked about the similarity between the poop and ice cream emoji, Van Lancker replied, "Some design elements may have been reused between them …"


Long before emoji, people communicated with emoticons—representations of facial expressions created with punctuation marks. While emoji are undoubtedly the more detailed, colorful set of characters, Carnegie Mellon computer science professor Scott Fahlman tends to prefer his original form, which he traces to a 1982 message board conversation.

"I propose the following character sequence for joke markers: :-) Read it sideways," Fahlman had told the group, and before long, the expression spread and was soon used at other universities before making its way into casual digital conversations worldwide.

But when it comes to emoji, Fahlman told the Independent, "I think they are ugly, and they ruin the challenge of trying to come up with a clever way to express emotions using standard keyboard characters. But perhaps that's just because I invented the other kind."



Yep, the set of emoji Kurita created back in 1999 is now part of MoMA’s permanent display, starting in December 2016. And they aren't the only digital objects on display: The museum previously acquired the "@" symbol in 2012.

The collection resides in the museum’s lobby and represents a balance between modernity and hieroglyphics, one of the oldest forms of written communication. However, as ancient as the roots of emoji may be, the original collection's influence in modern culture remains strong. "It is hard to overstate it. I mean if you think about it, we cannot live without emojis today," Paola Antonelli, the senior curator in the department of architecture and design, told NPR. "We've become used into condensing our thoughts and our kind of emotions in them."


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