The other day I was browsing gmail emoji—could we pretend I didn’t admit that?—and was struck by this little number  , which reminded me of the way my dad greeted other drivers in North Dakota. keep 50%-fingerwave

Index finger lifted from the steering wheel. That was it. No turn of the head. Smile optional.

Driver’s Finger was a simple, dignified gesture. It was a manly alternative to waving, which tends to make other drivers think you’re alerting them to a problem, say, dragging a fire hydrant from their rear bumper.

I still see Driver’s Finger in rural areas. Maybe it’s used in cities and I just haven’t noticed. I can imagine situations in which the move could prove troublesome unless you’re up on your gang signs. (“Hell, yes, I shot him. Dude flashed me his index finger from the steering wheel and it was on.”)

At sports events a comically oversized index finger delivers a message: “Look, I’m waving a big piece of foam at you.” In contrast, Driver’s Finger never goes out of its way to draw attention to itself. It’s understood without screams or body spasms.

I have no idea how Driver’s Finger originated. Perhaps it dates back to when farm trucks and cars were harder to steer and keep on the road. This minimalist gesture was polite and safe. Whatever its beginnings, I like Driver’s Finger. It’s well-mannered. Never crude or overwrought like its neighbor, middle finger, aka The Finger.

I call Driver’s Finger a “manly alternative” because women drivers who recognized their friends in an oncoming vehicle, then as now, usually eschewed Driver’s Finger for a friendly smile accompanied by an upward tilt of the jaw. Also subtle but, well, ladylike. 50%-head+tilt

Both Driver’s Finger and Head Tilt + Smile are soft, noninvasive pleasantries. These gestures don’t demand we “get together soon.” They’re not invitations to “like my driving on Facebook.” All they do is recognize another driver as a human being—which may be anachronistic soon enough with driverless cars. Meanwhile, Driver’s Finger and Head Tilt + Smile express civility. That’s always worth pointing out, or in the case of Driver’s Finger, pointing up.

 

 

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