Andrew Zhu

I’II Take Three


I’II Take Three

I find inspiration through the most random sources. The inspiration for this writing piece came from a Facebook Messenger chat comment. One of the chat participants is currently in the Southeastern United States and happened to visit an old Vanderbilt mansion. Apparently, according to his comment, only three people have ever lived there. I assume he meant three people with the privileged “Vanderbilt” surname, and not any butlers, maids, groundskeepers, or other help staff that lived in the house or surrounding property over the years. As I am wont to do, I attempted to respond with an appropriate emoji react – I scanned the pictograms of various hand poses to find the ones with three digits extended.

In the picture, of which I blurred the non-contributory emojis, one can find assorted poses of extended digits, ranging from zero total to ten across both hands. Notably, there were only two emoji showing three digits in extension, that of the “I love you” (ILY) symbol in sign language and the “OK” sign. I eventually settled on replying with the former emoji.

My mind immediately recalled the excellent pub scene from Inglourious Basterds, when [spoiler alert]… differences over signaling for three more beers by Michael Fassbender’s character, a British spy posing as a German Officer, led to a ferocious firefight and carnage on the scale of the typical Tarantino flick. Fassbender’s character held his index, middle, and ring fingers up, though in Germany the usual method is to extend the thumb, index finger, and middle finger.



So, here-in arises the prompt – what are all the variations of three-digit gestures using one hand? When is each variation used?

The first part of the answer is easily calculated with 5 choose 3, which resolves as 10 different ways of extending three digits. Note that the credit for the design of many images goes to Maciej Świerczek from The Noun Project (fist, five fingers); to obtain the other arrangements, I simply modified these base images… using Paint, because my vector drawing skills are terrible.


Ext. Thumb, index, middle: the way most Western Europeans (e.g. Germans) signal for three.


Ext. Thumb, index, ring: Difficult due to shared flexor tendons between the ring and pinky.


Ext. Thumb, index, pinky: The ILY sign in deaf culture. Often confused with the Texas horns or rocking out sign.


Ext. Thumb, middle, ring: Difficult due to shared flexor tendons between the ring and pinky.


Ext. Thumb, middle, pinky: Possible can be construed as an unusual middle-finger gesture variant.


Ext. Thumb, ring, pinky: Difficult due to shared flexor tendons between the ring and pinky.


Ext. Index, middle, ring: The typical way Americans and British folk signal for three.


Ext. Index, middle, pinky: Can be used to perform a graphic action which I will not expand upon here.


Ext. Index, ring, pinky: The middle finger really doesn’t want to stay down in this gesture.


Ext. Middle, index, pinky: Used as basis for the “OK” sign

We find that of the ten three-digit gestures, only four of them (1. Thumb index middle, 2. Thumb index pinky, 3. Index middle ring, 4. Middle index pinky) are used with some frequency in polite society. Most of the remaining three-digit gestures see usage due to the uncomfortable contortions of the hand necessary to reach those positions.



Not much to this post at all – a short thought that crossed my mind that I had to write up before it left! The most time-consuming aspect turned out to be the modification of the hand into the different configurations.