Why does the phrase "cross my fingers' mean just "cross middle finger over index finger"?

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Originally, I thought "cross my fingers' would mean something like this picture shows:

Enter image description here

But by a search for the phrase "cross my fingers images" on the web, I get most of pictures like this:

Enter image description here

So, I want to know:

  1. Is there a reason (if there is) why "cross my fingers' means just "cross middle finger over index finger"?

  2. Is there a phrase to describe all the five figures of both hands get crossed just like the first picture shows?

dan

Posted 2018-08-27T01:01:26.700

Reputation: 12 255

@PeterMortensen - your edit is appreciated, but if you're going to take the time to capitalize "Enter image description here", maybe it would be better to just enter a description of the image? – ColleenV – 2018-08-28T17:19:18.467

Answers

29

To cross one's fingers is a phrase going all the way back to ancient Israel and the Hebrew Bible, a gesture used by Jewish judges. This gesture was later adopted by the Christians who saw the symbolism of the Christian cross in it. It means the person crossing their index and middle fingers is praying for good luck, hoping something good or something they wish for will happen.

The first picture you include in your question can be described as, "lace one's fingers" or "interlaced fingers".

She laced her fingers.

He rests his hands on the table, fingers interlaced.

Some also call it "folding/folded hands". However, "to fold one's hands" is ambiguous, and can be interpreted differently by different people.

Eddie Kal

Posted 2018-08-27T01:01:26.700

Reputation: 15 761

2For example, one hand inside another is also called "to fold one's hands" in my experience. – Yakk – 2018-08-28T18:24:59.233

12

People cross their fingers when they hope for a favorable outcome or wish for good luck. Wikipedia has

To cross one's fingers is a hand gesture commonly used to wish for luck. Occasionally it is interpreted as an attempt to implore God for protection. The gesture is referred to by the common expressions "cross your fingers", "keep your fingers crossed", or just "fingers crossed".

Some people, mostly children, also use the gesture to excuse their telling of a white lie. By extension, a similar belief is that crossing one's fingers invalidates a promise being made.

There are probably few different ways to describe the version with the hands. I think the most common way to say this (at least in AmE) might be folding your hands, though I might be forgetting one.

fold one's hands
to bring one's hands together, palm to palm, with the fingers interlocking; to grasp one's hands together, palm to palm, perpendicular to one another. Please fold your hands and put them on the table while the teacher reads you a story. Please fold your hands and be quiet.

You can also say clasp your hands, interlace your fingers, interlock your fingers. Clasp your hands could also mean cupping and grasping your hands, without interlocking the fingers. Also, hand clasping seems to also be scientific jargon.

Em.

Posted 2018-08-27T01:01:26.700

Reputation: 44 188

10

To add to the existing answers: "clasping one's hands" is also an acceptable description of your first picture (although it might also refer to different gestures involving holding one hand in the other).

And crossed fingers, in addition to being a good luck gesture, can also (usually jokingly) refer to lying - kids would cross their fingers behind their backs when telling a lie or making a promise they don't intend to keep.

Maciej Stachowski

Posted 2018-08-27T01:01:26.700

Reputation: 6 370

You say "also an acceptable description". What is the first description you are referring to, because I wouldn't call crossing ones fingers an acceptable description (as it would confuse people) – Aethenosity – 2018-08-28T08:18:43.787

1@Aethenosity I'm referring to the descriptions in other answers, not the OP's description (which is indeed a bit confusing). – Maciej Stachowski – 2018-08-28T10:30:39.723

+1 for mentioning the use of crossing fingers to denote the opposite of what's being said. I'm surprised this wasn't mentioned in other answers. – xtraorange – 2018-08-28T17:53:49.910

4

In addition to what the other answers said:

The definition of "cross" applicable here would be "intersect", as in the meeting of two things stretching in different directions.

This is clearly what's happening in the second image, where the index finger can be seen passing from one side to the other side of the middle finger, thus the two fingers cross at some point in the middle.

For the first image, the fingers are mostly parallel rather than "crossing".

Of course these aren't hard and fast rules - there can certainly be some crossing going on when folding one's hands / lacing one's fingers, or not so much crossing when crossing one's fingers, even when you just look at it from a different angle, but this is the basic idea.

NotThatGuy

Posted 2018-08-27T01:01:26.700

Reputation: 159

Great answer! +1 for the descriptive explanation of the images. But I'd like to add that one can also cross their fingers with folded hands. Imagine both hands pushing outward or slightly cupped inward. – Eddie Kal – 2018-08-27T13:57:43.373

This seems like the best answer. The others discuss the practice itself, not much about [i]why[/i] we use this particular word to describe it. – Barmar – 2018-08-27T20:55:36.853

@EddieKal True, you can clasp your hands and then rotate one of them, then the fingers of each hand cross those of the others. – Barmar – 2018-08-27T20:57:00.857

2

"Cross your fingers" refers to to this specific gesture because it is traditionally a sign of good luck. Some may interpret this as making the sign of the Cross, from Christianity, but now it typically does not have any religious connotation. "Cross your fingers" is a common phrase someone might make before doing something risky.

The right phrase for the first gesture you show is "folding one's hands", at least in American English.

Jair Taylor

Posted 2018-08-27T01:01:26.700

Reputation: 21

1

To address the latter part of the question, ”cross middle finger over index finger":
This is likely due to physiology. Most people can cross the middle over index, or rather the index under the middle. Many can also cross the ring finger over the pinky. Some may be able to cross the middle and ring fingers.
The middle and ring fingers are generally the longest fingers and thus have a greater ability to cross others. Some people can cross middle over index and ring over pinky at the same time.

MikeP

Posted 2018-08-27T01:01:26.700

Reputation: 131