Military Wiki

A salute is a gesture or other action used to display respect. Salutes are primarily associated with armed forces, but other organisations and civil people also use salutes.

Lieutenant, Junior Grade Shaina Hayden of the United States Navy, performs a military hand salute in November 2008.

Pakistan army soldiers with the Pakistan 67th Medical Battalion salute during a transfer of authority ceremony with U.S. Army soldiers of the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan.

Scouting leader and a new Scout exchange salutes, March 2010, Mexico City, Mexico. Photo by George Garrigues

Military salutes

Admiral Jay L. Johnson and Admiral Vern Clark of the United States Navy salute each other during a change-of-command ceremony. Clark is relieving Johnson as Chief of Naval Operations.

In military traditions of various times and places, there have been numerous methods of performing salutes, using hand gestures, cannon or rifle shots, hoisting of flags, removal of headgear, or other means of showing respect or deference. In the Commonwealth of Nations, only officers are saluted, and the salute is to the commission they carry from their respective commanders-in-chief representing the Monarch, not the officers themselves.

The French salute is almost identical to the British Army's. The customary salute in the Polish Armed Forces is the two-fingers salute, a variation of the British military salute with only two fingers extended. In the Russian military, the right hand, palm down, is brought to the right temple, almost, but not quite, touching; the head has to be covered. In the Swedish armed forces, the salute is identical to that of the U.S. armed forces and the British Royal Navy. In the Hellenic Army salute the palm is facing down and the fingers point to the coat of arms.

In the United States Navy, United States Marine Corps, United States Coast Guard, United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and Colombian Army, as well as in all branches of the British Armed Forces, Polish Armed Forces, Canadian Forces, Turkish Armed Forces, Swedish Armed Forces, Norwegian Armed Forces, and Hellenic Armed Forces, Russian and all former Soviet republic forces, hand salutes are only given when a cover (protection for the head, usually a hat) is worn.

The United States Army and United States Air Force give salutes both covered and uncovered, but saluting indoors is forbidden except when formally reporting to a superior officer or during an indoor ceremony.

When the presence of enemy snipers is suspected, military salutes are generally forbidden, since the enemy may use them to recognize officers as valuable targets.

When riding a motorcycle, the rider sometimes salutes with the left hand, as the right hand is needed to hold the throttle twistgrip open. US military personnel do not salute when riding motorcycles or bicycles as this can cause a loss of control.


File:Rustic civility.jpg

Rustic Civility by William Collins showing a child "tugging his forelock" as a local authority figure passes on horseback (only visible by the shadow)

According to some modern military manuals, the modern western salute originated in the Middle Ages when knights who greeted each other raised their visors to show their faces, using a motion that resulted in what looks like a modern salute. There is however no historical basis for this tradition.

The naval salute, with the palm downwards is said to have evolved because the palms of naval ratings, particularly deckhands, were often dirty through working with lines and was deemed insulting to present a dirty palm to an officer; thus the palm was turned downwards. Alternatively, this may have been the natural position of the hand when seizing the brim of a hat. During the Napoleonic Wars, British crews saluted officers by touching a clenched fist to the brow as though grasping a hat-brim between fingers and thumb.

Small arms salutes

A captain of the French Navy salutes by holding the back of his sabre to his face during the ceremonies of the 14th of July in Toulon.

When carrying a sword (which is still done on ceremonial occasions), European military forces and their cultural descendants use a two-step gesture. The sword is first raised, in the right hand, to the level of and close to the front of the neck. The blade is inclined forward and up 30 degrees from the vertical; the true edge is to the left. Then the sword is slashed downward to a position with the point close to the ground in front of the right foot. The blade is inclined down and forward with the true edge to the left. This gesture originated in the Crusades. The hilt of a sword formed a cross with the blade, so if a crucifix was not available, a Crusader could kiss the hilt of his sword when praying, before entering battle, for oaths and vows, and so on. The lowering of the point to the ground is a traditional act of submission.

In fencing, the fencers salute each other before putting their masks on to begin a bout. There are several methods of doing this, but the most common is to bring the sword in front of the face so that the blade is pointing up in front of the nose. The fencers also salute the referee and the audience.

When armed with a rifle, two methods are available when saluting. The usual method is called "present arms"; the rifle is brought to the vertical, muzzle up, in front of center of the chest with the trigger away from the body. The hands hold the stock close to the positions they would have if the rifle were being fired, though the trigger is not touched. Less formal salutes include the "order arms salute" and the "shoulder arms salutes." These are most often given by a sentry to a low-ranking superior who does not rate the full "present arms" salute. In the "order arms salute," the rifle rests on its butt by the sentry's right foot, held near the muzzle by the sentry's right hand, and does not move. The sentry brings his flattened left hand across his body and touches the rifle near its muzzle. When the rifle is being carried on the shoulder, a similar gesture is used in which the flattened free hand is brought across the body to touch the rifle near the rear of the receiver.

A different type of salute with a rifle is a ritual firing performed during military funerals, known as a three-volley salute. In this ceremonial act, an odd number of rifleman fire three blank cartridges in unison into the air over the casket. This originates from an old European tradition wherein a battle was halted to remove the dead and wounded, then three shots were fired to signal readiness to reengage.

Heavy arms: gun salutes

A cannon on a naval vessel's deck fired during the arrival of a dignitary.

Naval cannon fire

The custom of firing cannon salutes originated in the Royal Navy. When a cannon was fired, it partially disarmed the ship, so needlessly firing a cannon showed respect and trust. As a matter of courtesy a warship would fire her guns harmlessly out to sea, to show that she had no hostile intent. At first, ships were required to fire seven guns, and forts, with their more numerous guns and a larger supply of gunpowder, to fire 21 times. Later, as the quality of gunpowder improved, the British increased the number of shots required from ships to match the forts.

The system of odd numbered rounds is said to have been originated by Samuel Pepys, Secretary to the Navy in the Restoration, as a way of economising on the use of powder, the rule until that time having been that all guns had to be fired. Odd numbers were chosen, as even numbers indicated a death.

As naval customs evolved, the 21-gun salute came to be reserved for heads of state, with fewer rounds used to salute lower-ranking officials. Today, heads of government and cabinet ministers (e.g., the Vice President U.S. cabinet members, and service secretaries[1]), and military officers with five-star rank receive 19 rounds; four-stars receive 17 rounds; three-stars receive 15; two-stars receive 13; and a one-star general or admiral receives 11. These same standards are currently adhered to by ground-based saluting batteries.

Multiples of 21-gun salutes may be fired for particularly important celebrations. In monarchies this is often done at births of members of the royal family of the country and other official celebrations associated with the royal family.

United States Army Presidential Salute Battery

A specialty platoon of the 3rd US Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), the Presidential Salute Battery is based at Fort Myer, Virginia. The Guns Platoon (as it is known for short) has the task of rendering military honors in the National Capital Region, including armed forces full-honors funerals; state funerals; presidential inaugurations; full-honors wreath ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery; state arrivals at the White House and Pentagon, and retirement ceremonies for general-grade officers in the Military District of Washington, which are normally conducted at Fort Myer.

The Presidential Salute Battery also participates in A Capitol Fourth, the Washington Independence Day celebration; the guns accompany the National Symphony Orchestra in performing the "1812 Overture".

The platoon maintains its battery of ten ceremonially-modified World War II-vintage M-5 anti-tank guns at the Old Guard regimental motor pool.

Aerial salutes

A ceremonial or celebratory form of aerial salute is the flypast (known as a "flyover" in the United States), which often follows major parades such as the annual Trooping the Colour in the United Kingdom or the French défilé du 14 juillet. It is seen in other countries as well, notably Singapore and Canada.

Gun salute by aircraft, primarily displayed during funerals, began with simple flypasts during World War I and have evolved into the missing man formation, where either a formation of aircraft is conspicuously missing an element, or where a single plane abruptly leaves a formation.

A casual salute by an aircraft, somewhat akin to waving to a friend, is the custom of "waggling" the wings by partially rolling the aircraft first to one side, and then the other.

Military salutes in different countries

Australia and New Zealand

The formal right-hand salute is generally identical to, and drawn from the traditions of, the British Army. The physical act of the salute is best described as the right arm taking the path of the longest way up and then the shortest way down. The action of the arm rotating up is slower than the action of the conclusion of the salute which is the arm being quickly "snapped" down to the saluter's side. Junior members are required to salute first and the senior member is obliged to return the compliment. Protocol dictates that the Monarch, members of the Royal Family, the Governor-General and State Governors are to be saluted at all times by all ranks. Except where a Drill Manual (or parade) protocol dictates otherwise, the duration of the salute is timed at three beats of the quick-time march (approximately 1.5 seconds), timed from the moment the senior member first returns it. In situations where cover (or "headdress", as it is called in the Australian Army) is not being worn, the salute is given verbally; the junior party (or senior member thereof) will first come to attention, then offer the salute "Good morning/afternoon Your Majesty/Your Royal Highness/Prime Minister/Your Grace/Sir/Ma'am", etc., as the case may be. It is this salutation, rather than the act of standing to attention, which indicates that a salute is being offered. If either party consists of two or more members, all will come to attention, but only the most senior member of the party will offer (or return) the physical or verbal salute. The party which is wearing headdress must always offer, or respond with, a full manual salute. At the Forward Edge of the Battle Area (FEBA) no salutes of any kind are ever given, under any circumstances; it is sensible to assume that there are always snipers in the area. In this case, parties personally known to each other are addressed familiarly by their first or given names, regardless of rank; senior officers are addressed as one might address a stranger, courteously, but without any naming or mark of respect.[2]

British military

British Army

Since 1917, the British Army's salute has been given with the right hand palm facing forwards with the fingers almost touching the cap or beret. Before 1917, the salute was given with whichever hand was furthest from the person being saluted, whether that was the right or the left.[3] The salute is given to acknowledge the Queen's commission. A salute may not be given unless a soldier is wearing his regimental headdress, for example a Beret, Caubeen, Tam o' Shanter, Glengarry, field service cap or peaked cap. This does not apply to members of The Blues and Royals (RHG/1stD) The Household Cavalry who, after The Battle of Waterloo where allowed to salute without headdress. If a soldier or officer is not wearing headdress then he or she must come to attention instead of giving/returning the salute. The subordinate salutes first and maintains the salute until the superior has responded in kind.

There is a widespread though erroneous belief that it is statutory for "all ranks to salute a bearer of the Victoria Cross". There is no official requirement that appears in the official Warrant of the VC, nor in Queen's Regulations and Orders, but tradition dictates that this occurs and as such the Chiefs of Staff will salute a Private awarded a VC or GC.

Royal Air Force

The custom of saluting commissioned officers relates wholly to the commission given by Her Majesty the Queen to that officer, not the person.[4] Therefore, when a subordinate airman salutes an officer, he is indirectly acknowledging Her Majesty as Head of State. A salute returned by the officer is on behalf of the Queen.

The RAF salute is essentially the same as that of the Army. When RAF personnel hand salute they display an open hand, positioned such that the finger tips almost, but not quite, touch the hat band.

Royal Navy

The Naval salute differs in that the palm of the hand faces down towards the shoulder. This dates back to the days of sailing ships, when tar and pitch were used to seal the timber from seawater. To protect their hands, officer wore white gloves and it was considered most undignified to present a dirty palm in the salute so the hand was turned through 90 degrees. A common story is that Queen Victoria having been saluted by a naval individual with a dirty palm, decreed the sailors of the fleet would salute palm down, palm rotated 90 degrees of a typical salute with the palm now pointing towards the member's shoulder.

In the colonial context

In the British Empire (originally in the maritime and hinterland sphere of influence of the East India Company, HEIC, later transformed into crown territories), mainly in British India, the numbers of guns fired as a gun salute to the ruler of a so-called princely state became a politically highly significant indicator of his status, not governed by objective rules, but awarded (and in various cases increased) by the British paramount power, roughly reflecting his state's socio-economic, political and/or military weight, but also as a prestigious reward for loyalty to the Raj, in classes (always odd numbers) from three to 21 (seven lacking), for the "vassal" indigenous rulers (normally hereditary with a throne, sometimes raised as a personal distinction for an individual ruling prince). Two sovereign monarchies officially outside the Empire were granted a higher honour: 31 guns for the royal houses of Afghanistan (under British and Russian influence), and Siam (which was then ruled by the Rattanakosin Kingdom).

In addition, the right to style himself Highness (Majesty, which since its Roman origin expresses the sovereign authority of the state, was denied to all "vassals"), a title of great importance in international relations, was formally restricted to rulers of relatively high salute ranks (originally only those with 11 guns or more, later also those with nine guns).

Indonesia Salute

File:Present Arms & Salute.jpg

Two Indonesian soldiers doing the Present Arms gesture and a national flag raiser squad girl doing the salute

In Indonesia, the salute is a very common gesture amongst every part of the country, starting from school to military, the salute is a gesture that every person must known and is commonly used for the flag raising ceremony. In the military, this gesture is known as Present Arms or in Bahasa Indonesia: Hormat Senjata, Gerak.

Canadian military

Much as the British salute, described above, the Canadian military salutes to demonstrate a mark of respect and courtesy for the commissioned ranks. When in uniform and not wearing headdress one does not salute. Instead, compliments shall be paid by standing at attention. If on the march, arms shall be swung and the head turned to the left or right as required.[5]

On Remembrance Day, 2009, The Prince of Wales attended the national ceremony in Ottawa with Governor General Michaëlle Jean—both wearing Canadian military dress. CBC live television coverage of the event noted that, when Prince Charles saluted, he performed the Canadian form of the salute with a cupped hand (the British "naval salute"—appropriate, as he did his military service as an officer in the Royal Navy), adopted by all elements of the Canadian Forces after unification in 1968, rather than the British (Army) form with the palm facing forward.

French military

A lieutenant-colonel saluting officials at the ceremonies of the 14th of July in Toulon.

Much as the British salute, described above, the French military salutes to demonstrate a mark of respect and courtesy for the commissioned ranks. Salutes are not performed if a member is not wearing a headdress. The salute is performed with a flat hand, palm facing forwards; the upper arm is horizontal and the tip of the fingers come near the corner of the eyes. A crisp tension may be given when the salute is broken.

German military

In the German Bundeswehr, the salute is performed with a flat hand, with the thumb resting on the index finger. The hand is slightly tilted to the front so that the thumb can not be seen. The upper arm is horizontal and the fingers point to the temple but do not touch it or the headgear. Every soldier saluting another uniformed soldier is entitled to be saluted in return. Soldiers below the rank of Feldwebel are not permitted to speak while saluting. Since the creation of the Bundeswehr, soldiers are required to salute with and without headgear. Originally, in the Reichswehr it was not permitted to perform the salute when the soldier is not wearing uniform headgear. In the Wehrmacht, the traditional military salute was required when wearing headgear, but the Nazi salute was performed when not wearing headgear. East German National People's Army followed the Reichswehr protocol.

Israel Defense Forces

Israeli style salute at IDF ceremony for the newly appointed Commander in Chief of Israeli Navy, Brig. General Ram Rotenberg

In the Israel Defense Forces, saluting is normally reserved for special ceremonies. Unlike the United States, saluting is not a constant part of day to day barracks life.[6]

People's Republic of China

Military personnel of the People's Liberation Army salute according to Chinese standards[vague]

and similar to the Royal Navy salute.[citation needed]

Polish military

Polish style salute, using two fingers

In Polish military forces, militarymen use two fingers to salute, and when they wear headdress (including helmet) only (an expression of the Polish struggle towards the ultimate egalitarian society: not saluting the person per se). This is called the Two-finger salute. There are some exceptions in Polish regulations when salute is not demonstrated, for instance after proclaiming alert in military unit area. As above, salute is marking respect for higher rank or command. Untrained recruits are obliged to salute as without headdress, i.e. to stand at attention (or—during walking—to march at attention).

Swiss Armed Forces

Swiss soldiers are required to salute any higher-ranking military personnel whenever they encounter them. The salute is given like that of the British Navy with the palm pointing towards the shoulder.

Zogist salute

File:Royal Albanian army 2.jpg

Female Albanian soldiers performing the Zogist salute

The Zogist salute is a military salute that was instituted by Zog I of Albania. It is a gesture whereby the right hand is placed over the heart, with the palm facing downwards. It was first widely used by Zog's personal police force and was later adopted by the Royal Albanian Army.

Non-military services

Canadian police

Most police forces salute similar to the Canadian Forces standard, with the exception of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, which follow the British Army standard of saluting with the full palm facing forward, touching the brim of the hat, if worn.


Similar salutes are used by honour guards for non-police services (e.g. Toronto Fire Services, Toronto Transit Commission) during funerals or ceremonial events.

Hong Kong

All uniform branches of the Hong Kong (Police, Police Auxiliary, Police Pipeband, Fire (including Ambulance service members), Immigration, Customs, Correctional Services, Government Flying Service, Civil Aid Service) salute according to British Army traditions. Personnel stationed with the People's Liberation Army in Hong Kong salute using the Chinese military standards and similar to those used by the Royal Navy.

Non-government organizations like Hong Kong Air Cadet Corps, Hong Kong Adventure Corps, Hong Kong Sea Cadet Corps and St. John Ambulance all follow the same military salutes due to their ties with the British Armed Forces.

Civilian salutes

In most countries, such as the United Kingdom and Canada, civilians do not salute the flag, although some may stand at attention when a national anthem is played or the national flag raised or lowered. In the United Kingdom, certain civilian individuals, such as officers of HM Revenue and Customs, salute the quarterdeck of Royal Navy vessels on boarding.

In many countries, gestures such as tipping one's hat when passing another on the street can be considered appropriate civilian salutes. A more formal hat tip-and-lift is common in Britain, especially by doormen in hotels.

In the United States, civilians may salute the American flag by placing their right hand over their heart or by standing at attention during the playing of the national anthem or while reciting the American Pledge of Allegiance, or when the flag is passing by, as in a parade, etc. Men and boys remove their hats and other headgear during the salute—excepting religious headdress (and military headdress worn by veterans in uniform, who are otherwise civilians). The nature of the headgear determines whether it is held in the left or right hand, tucked under the left arm, etc. However, if it is held in the right hand, the headgear is not held over the heart but the hand is placed in the same position it would be if it were not holding anything.

The Defense Authorization Act of 2009, signed by President Bush, contained a provision that gave veterans and active-duty service members not in uniform the right to salute during the playing of the national anthem. Previous legislation authorized saluting when not in uniform during the raising, lowering and passing of the flag. However, because a salute is a form of communication protected by the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment, legislative authorization is not required for any civilian—veteran or non-veteran—to salute the American flag.

Civilians in some other countries, like Italy and Nigeria, also render the hand-on-heart (heart-touching) salute when hearing their respective national anthems.

In Latin America, especially in Mexico, a salute similar to the United States military's salute (see below) is used, but the hand is placed across the left chest with the palm facing the ground.

The same salute was instituted in Albania as the "Zog salute" by King Zog I.

In the Philippines, civilians salute to the national flag during flag raising and upon hearing the Philippine National Anthem by standing at attention and doing the hand-to-heart salute. People wearing hats or caps must bare their heads and hold the headwear over their heart. Members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (including Philippine Air Force) and Philippine National Police meanwhile do the traditional salutes if they are on duty. If a member of the military or police is not on duty, they must place their hands over their left chest.

Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts meanwhile have their own form of salutes.

In Indonesia, civilians may either place their right hand to their left-breast (heart) or salute the flag as per a military salute, which may be that of the PETA Revolutionaries, or as per modern military drill. All persons present regardless of nationality are expected to stand silently and respectfully during its raising and lowering. It is a severe criminal offense in Indonesia to dishonour the national flag (known in Indonesian as Sang Saka Merah Putih, "The Red and White") and its ceremonies, or the national anthem, "Indonesia Raya".

Thailand also has the same rule like Indonesia wherein all persons present regardless of nationality are expected to stand at attention and respectfully during the flag raising and lowering and upon hearing the Thai National Anthem every 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. or hearing the Sansoen Phra Barami. The Lèse majesté in Thailand says that it is a serious criminal offense to dishonor the flag of Thailand or National/Royal Anthem.

Roman salute

The Oath of the Horatii, by Jacques-Louis David

The Roman salute is a gesture in which the arm is held out forward straight, with palm down and fingers extended straight and touching. Sometimes the arm is raised upward at an angle, sometimes it is held out parallel to the ground. A well known symbol of fascism, it is commonly perceived to be based on a classical Roman custom.[7]p. 2 But no known Roman work of art displays this salute, nor does any known Roman text describe it.[7]

Beginning with Jacques-Louis David's painting The Oath of the Horatii (1784), an association of the gesture with Roman republican and imperial culture emerged through 18th-century French art.[7]:42–56 The association with ancient Roman traditions was further developed in popular culture through late 19th- and early 20th-century plays and films.[7]:pp. 70–101 These including the epic Cabiria (1914), whose screenplay was attributed to Italian nationalist Gabriele d'Annunzio.[7] In a case of life imitating art, d'Annunzio appropriated the salute as a neo-imperial ritual when he led the occupation of Fiume in 1919.[8] It was soon adopted by the Italian Fascist party[8] and from them the Nazi party.[9] However, the armed forces (Wehrmacht) of the Third Reich used the traditional European military salute until, in the wake of the July 20 plot on Hitler's life in 1944, the Nazi salute or Hitlergruss was imposed on them. The Bellamy salute was a similar gesture and was the civilian salute of the United States from 1892 to 1942.

In Germany showing the Roman salute is prohibited. Even rendering similar salutes, for example raising the left instead of the right hand, or raising only three fingers, are put under prosecution. The punishment derives from § 86a of the German Criminal Code and can be up to three years of prison or a fine (in minor cases).[10]

Clenched fist salute

The raised clenched fist, symbolizing unity in struggle, was popularized in the 19th century by the socialist, communist and anarchist movements, and is still used today.

In the United States, the raised fist was associated with the Black Power movement, symbolized in the 1968 Olympics Black Power salute; a clenched-fist salute is also proper in many African nations, including South Africa. However, the two salutes are somewhat different: in the Black Power salute, the arm is held straight, while in the salute of leftist movements the arm is bent slightly at the elbow.


Many different gestures are used throughout the world as simple greetings. In Western cultures, the handshake is very common, though it has numerous subtle variations of grip strength, amount of "pumping" involved, and use of the left hand.

In Europe, the formal greeting form used from men to women is holding her presented hand (usually the right one) with the right hand and kissing it bowing (the ultra formal, with the right knee on the floor, is only used in marriage proposals). In cases of low intimacy, the hand is just held, but not kissed.

The Arabic term salaam, literally "peace" from the spoken greeting that accompanies the gesture, refers placing the right palm on the heart, prior and after a handshake.

In many East Asian cultures, a simple bow from the waist (rei in Japanese, panbae in Korean) is used, with many regional variations seen. Korean men leave their hands straight down at their sides, while Korean women usually place their hands in their lap while bowing.[citation needed]

A Chinese martial arts greeting features the right hand in a fist with the left hand open covering it with a slight nod of the head.

In India, it is common to see the greeting ("Namaste" or "Sat Sri Akal" for Sikhs) where the two hands (palms) are pressed together and held near the heart with the head gently bowed.

In Indonesia, a nation with a huge variety of cultures and religions, many greetings are expressed, from the highly formalised of the highly stratified and hierarchical Javanese to the more egalitarian and practical of outer islands. Javanese, Batak and other ethnicities actively or formerly involved in the military will salute a Government employed superior, followed by a deep from the waist or short bow of the head and a passing, loose handshake. Hand position is highly important, the superior's hand must be higher than the inferior's. Muslim men will clasp both hands, prayer-like and palm together at the chest and utter the correct Islamic slametan (greeting) phrase, which may be followed by cheek to cheek contact, quick hug or the loose handshake. Pious Muslim women rotate their hands from a vertical to perpendicular prayer-like position in order to barely touch the finger tips of the male greeter and may opt out of the cheek-to-cheek contact. If the male is an Abdi Dalem royal servant, courtier or particularly "peko-peko" (taken directly from Japanese to mean obsequious) or even a highly formal individual, he will retreat face and head downcast, never show his side or back to his superior, and retreat backwards in the following posture: left-arm crossed against the chest, right-arm hanging and walking stooped. The underlying concept is that their head height may never be equal to that of their superior. Much younger Muslim males and females will clasp their elders' or superior outstretched hand to the forehead as a sign of respect and obeisance. If a manual labourer or person with obviously dirty hands salutes or greets an elder or superior, he will deliberately show deference for their superior's comfort and avoid contact by bowing, touching the right forehead in a very quick salute or a distant "slamet", prayer-hands gesture.

Traditionally, Javanese Sungkem: clasp both hands palm together, thumb aligned with nose, head and face turned downwards and bow deeply, bending from the knees. In a royal presence, the one performing sungkem would kneel at the base of the throne.

A gesture called a wai is used in Thailand, where the hands are placed together palm to palm, approximately at nose level, while bowing. The wai is similar in form to the gesture referred to by the Japanese term gassho by Buddhists. In Thailand, the men and women would usually press two palms together and bow a little while saying "Sawadee ka" (female speaker) or "Sawadee krap" (male speaker).

Some cultures use hugs and kisses (regardless of the sex of the greeters), but those gestures show an existing degree of intimacy and are not used between total strangers. All of these gestures are being supplemented or completely displaced by the handshake in areas with large amounts of business contact with the West.[citation needed]

These bows indicate respect and acknowledgment of social rank, but do not necessarily imply obeisance.

Many secret societies develop gestures to signal fellow members. In 1830s Missouri, some Mormons formed a militia organization called the Sons of Dan, more commonly known as the Danite band, which developed a salute "whereby ye may know each other anywhere, either by day or night, and if a brother be in distress. It is thus: to clap the right hand to the thigh, and then raise it quick to the right temple, the thumb extending behind the ear."


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An obeisance is a gesture not only of respect but also of submission. Such gestures are rarer in cultures that do not have strong class structures; citizens of the Western World, for example, often react with hostility to the idea of bowing to an authority figure. The distinction between a formally polite greeting and an obeisance is often hard to make; for example, proskynesis (from the words πρός pros (towards) and κυνέω kyneo (to kiss))[11] is described by the Greek researcher Herodotus of Halicarnassus, who lived in the 5th century BC in his Histories 1.134:

When they meet each other in the streets, you may know if the persons meeting are of equal rank by the following token: if they are, instead of speaking, they kiss each other on the lips. In the case where one is a little inferior to the other, the kiss is given on the cheek; where the difference of rank is great, the inferior prostrates himself upon the ground.[12]

After his conquest of Persia, Alexander the Great introduced Persian etiquette into his own court, including the practice of proskynesis. Visitors, depending on their ranks, would have to prostrate themselves, bow to, kneel in front of, or kiss the king. His Greek countrymen objected to this practice, as they considered these rituals only suitable to the gods.

In countries with recognized social classes, bowing to nobility and royalty is customary. Standing bows of obeisance all involve bending forward from the waist with the eyes downcast, though variations in the placement of the arms and feet are seen. In western European cultures, women do not bow, they "curtsey" (a contraction of "courtesy" that became its own word), a movement in which one foot is moved back and the entire body lowered to a crouch while the head is bowed.

The European formal greeting used from men to women can be transformed into an obeisance gesture by holding the suzerain's hand with both hands. This kind of respect is due to kings, princes, sovereigns (in their kingdoms), archbishops (in their metropolitan province) or the Pope (everywhere). In ultra-formal ceremonies (a coronation, oath of allegiance or episcopal inauguration) the right knee shall touch the ground.

In South Asia traditions, obeisance also involves prostrating oneself before a king.

Many religious believers kneel in prayer, and some (Roman Catholics, and Anglicans) genuflect, bending one knee to touch the ground, at various points during religious services; the Orthodox Christian equivalent is a deep bow from the waist, and as an especially solemn obeisance the Orthodox make prostrations, bending down on both knees and touching the forehead to the floor. Roman Catholics also employ prostrations on Good Friday and at ordinations. During Islamic prayer, a kneeling bow called sajdah is used, with forehead, nose, hands, knees, and toes all touching the ground. Jews bow from the waist many times during prayer. Four times during the Yom Kippur service, and once on each day of Rosh Hashanah, many Jews will kneel and then prostrate. With the Salvation Army, when becoming a soldier, at a christening or other official event, underneath the flag, a salute is often used. This involves holding the hand, palm forwards, with all the fingers held in a clenched fist position. The index finger is left raised pointing towards God, and the hand is often held at chest height, in a similar position to that of Girl Guides.

Marching bands and Drum & Bugle Corps

Hand salutes similar to those used in the military are rendered by the Drum Major of a marching band or drum corps just prior to beginning their performance (after the show announcer asks if the group is ready), as well as following completion of the performance, both rendered to the audience.

The classic "corps style" salute is often known as the "punch" type, where the saluting party will first punch their right arm straight forward from their body, arm parallel to the ground, hand in a fist, followed by the more traditional salute position with the right hand, left arm akimbo. Dropping the salute typically entails snapping the saluting hand to the side and clenching the fist, then dropping both arms to the sides.

In the US, a Drum Major carrying a large baton or mace will often salute by bringing the right hand, holding the mace with the head upward, to the left shoulder.

There are occasional, more flashy variations, such as the windmill action of the saluting arm for the Madison Scouts drum major, or running the saluting hand around the brim of the aussie instead of snapping it down from the Cavaliers.

Military salutes in popular culture

Many artefacts of popular culture have often created military salutes for fiction purposes, and more often than not with a cynical or sarcastic purpose.

In his 1953 comic book album Le Dictateur et le Champignon, which is part of the Spirou et Fantasio series, Belgian artist Franquin creates a totally goofy salute, used in a fictional Latin American country named Palombia. When saluting, subordinates of General Zantas must raise their hands over their heads, with the palm facing forward, then point to the top of their heads with their thumbs.

Then, as if this wasn't enough, Franquin does it again in his 1957 comic book album Z comme Zorglub, another episode of the Spirou et Fantasio series. Here, almighty science wizard Zorglub's forced-enrolled soldiers salute their leader by pointing to their heads with their indexes, to cynically underline how much of a genius Zorglub is.

In the 1987 parodic science fiction film Spaceballs, directed by Mel Brooks, all subordinates of Supreme leader President Skroob salute him by first bending their forearm over their opposed hand like they're about to give him the arm of honor, but at the last moment, they used their raised hand to wave him good bye, rather than show him their middle finger.

See also


  1. E.g. Secretary of the Army, Secretary of the Navy, and Secretary of the Air Force
  2. "The Origins of Saluting". Department of Defence. Retrieved 9 June 2011. 
  3. General Jack's Diary ed by John Terraine
  4. "Royal Air Force website: Frequently Asked Questions – Who do you salute". Retrieved 2010-09-13. 
  5. "1 section 2". CF Manual of Drill and Ceremonial. Directorate of History and Heritage. pp. 1–2–3. 
  6. Stephanie Gutmann. The other war: Israelis, Palestinians, and the struggle for media supremacy. p.26
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Winkler, Martin M. (2009). The Roman Salute: Cinema, History, Ideology. Columbus: Ohio State University Press,. ISBN 978-0-8142-0864-9. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Falasca-Zamponi, Simonetta (2000). Fascist spectacle: the aesthetics of power in Mussolini's Italy. Studies on the history of society and culture. 28 (illustrated ed.). University of California Press. pp. 110–113. ISBN 978-0-520-22677-7. 
  9. Evans, Richard J. (2005). "The Rize of Nazism". The Coming of the Third Reich (reprint, illustrated ed.). Penguin Group. pp. 184–185. ISBN 978-0-14-303469-8. 
  10. Allert, Tilman; Translated by Jefferson Chase (April 2009). The Hitler Salute: On the Meaning of a Gesture (Picador ed.). Picador. p. 94. ISBN 978-0-312-42830-3. 

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