Vulcan Salute


The Vulcan salute is a hand gesture consisting of a raised hand, palm forward with the fingers parted between the middle and ring finger, and the thumb extended. The salute was devised and popularized by Leonard Nimoy, who portrayed the half-Vulcan character Mr. Spock on the original ‘Star Trek’ television series in the late 1960s.

The gesture famously has a reputation for being difficult for some people to make without practice or the covert pre-positioning of the fingers, and actors on the original show reportedly had to position their fingers off-screen with the other hand before raising their hand into frame. This reputation may stem from variations in individuals’ manual dexterity. This reputation is parodied somewhat in the motion picture ‘Star Trek: First Contact’ when Zefram Cochrane, upon meeting a Vulcan for the first time in human history, is unable to return the Vulcan salute gesture and instead shakes the Vulcan’s hand.

In his autobiography ‘I Am Not Spock,’ Nimoy wrote that he based it on a blessing performed by Jewish Kohanim (high priests) with both hands, thumb to thumb in this same position, representing the Hebrew letter Shin, which has three upward strokes similar to the position of the thumb and fingers in the salute. The letter Shin here stands for ‘El Shaddai’ (‘Almighty’). Nimoy wrote that when he was a child, his grandfather took him to an Orthodox synagogue. There he saw the blessing performed and was very impressed by it.

The salute is often followed by the Vulcan expression ‘live long and prosper.’ The less-known reply is ‘peace and long life.’ This format is similar to common Middle Eastern greetings (‘Salaam alaykum’ in Arabic and ‘Shalom aleikhem’ in Hebrew), meaning ‘peace be upon you,’ and its reply, ‘upon you be peace.’ An even older variation can be found with the Ancient Egyptians: the blessing ‘ankh wedja seneb,’ usually translated as ‘may he live, be prosperous, be healthy.’ William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet contains the line, ‘Live and be prosperous: and farewell good fellow.’ The phrase ‘live long’ first appeared in print in 1957 in Eric Frank Russell’s science fiction classic ‘Wasp’ where it was used both as a greeting and as a farewell by Earth’s deadly enemies, the Sirians.

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