AMY KIRK: 'Hand signals' a language often misunderstandThe most misunderstood language in the world is Hand Signals (HS). The culture that uses this language is a group of people known as ranchers.
The most misunderstood language in the world is Hand Signals (HS). The culture that uses this language is a group of people known as ranchers.
HS interpretation requires excellent guessing skills, intuition and acute telepathy of human male minds. Hand signals are basically a rancher’s hand-gestured ranch-related instructions that his wife (and/or children) is expected to carry out quickly and accurately.
Ranchers’ communication style is typically straightforward and oftentimes subconsciously limited but their hand signals make up for it. Hand signals are a complex non-verbal language consisting of individual dialects all of which have been misunderstood for years. Ranch women have participated in an eternal study to decipher them but the success rate remains low.
One way a woman can figure out a hand signal’s intended meaning is by using process of elimination.
Hand signals usually convey the following: “go over there,” “go check over there,” “there’s a calf/pair/cow(s) over there,” “open that gate,” “shut that gate,” “block that hole,” “get out of the way,” “get over there now.” By quickly assessing the circumstances, one of these is likely to fit the situation.
Occasionally though, interpreting waving arms may be mistaken for the hand signaler’s intent to communicate with livestock instead by “shooing” a cow, calf or bull in a specific direction.
Correctly reading hand signals is a true art form; something most ranch wives never expect to master.
Misreading hand signals has invoked arguments among many ranch couples but wives can find peace in knowing that the longer a couple is married, understanding hand signals is likely to remain the same and can therefore stop wasting their mental energy.
Knowing the day’s mission and objective before starting off is helpful in anticipating certain gesticulations that may be used even though plans are subject to change without notice.
I’ve found an effective strategy for interpreting hand signals is to pay attention more to the signaler’s body language and facial expressions than arm movements and hand gestures. Studying and memorizing the hand signaler’s body language when he’s frustrated or impatient provides good insight for correct interpretation at critical moments that require acting quickly. It’s important to note that there may be alternate meanings to every hand signal.
The goal is to see body language that appears relaxed in the hand signaler. No eye contact or eye contact that is not locked-on and disgruntled-looking reflects guessing correctly.
Gestures that become highly animated, very pronounced and require effort to produce are all indications of lacking good HS interpreting skills, like a furrowed brow, clenched jaw, standing up in the saddle or four-wheeler, or riding the horse or four-wheeler at a noticeably faster speed. Expressing impatience and frustration signify wrong interpretations.
Knowledge of lead cows, previous cowherd shenanigans, locations and conditions of fences and gates all help in understanding what a hand signal might mean.
Getting an audible version of the hand signal from a nearby male such as a son is extremely helpful in translating HS.
My most-used interpreting skill is pretending I didn’t see the hand signals. This produces mixed results depending on my actions.
If you have any questions about hand signal deciphering strategies don’t raise your hand, just ask away. We’ll get farther if you just speak my language.
Amy Kirk and her husband raise their two kids on a fourth-generation cow/calf operation near Pringle. She blogs at ranchwifeslant.areavoices.com.