Texas Thumb and Finger Signs

Driving rural roads in Texas requires a lot of savoir-faire, cunning, and savvy. One minor slip and a person can find himself blessed with a new image because he violated a highway protocol.

That’s right. Greeting oncoming motorists in rural Texas is important business.  You never risk the full finger howdy unless you know the guy you’re giving it to well enough to anticipate exactly what he’s up to.

Once you’re committed to the full finger howdy there’s no getting out of it.  If he responds by staring ahead, looking off into the pasture through his passenger window, he wins.  He’s communicated to you that he’s enough more important than you he can practice the one-upsmanship of ignoring you.  He’s disdained your greeting, while awarding himself the uplifting feeling of having insulted you without danger of being insulted in return.

The most common way rural Texans avoid overstretching their trust in their fellow motorists is to hold out for a sign from the oncoming driver that he’s going to indulge in a greeting.  This is awkward because it ends up being a game of chicken, each driver trying to out-wait the other to insure not being a loser, while avoiding being thought a snob.

Carefully executed, the tentative hat tip can be a good maneuver, both defensively, and offensively.  Defensively, the user can quickly change from a full finger howdy in progress to snatching the hat and wiping his forehead on his sleeve in the blink of an eye.  Offensively, he can perform this maneuver AFTER the other driver has committed, thereby, winning.

At highway speeds and in traffic usually there’s no time to complete the more complex rituals involving headgear.  Instead, the game gets played from the top of the steering wheel.

The index finger acknowledge can have a number of different meanings.  It might mean, “I don’t know who you are, but I don’t want to risk being rude.”  It might mean, “Yeah, I see you but I’m not enthusiastic about it.”  Or it might mean, “I don’t have time to play,” or, “I’m not from around here.”

The fast three finger hi means, “You almost got me.”  Slower, it means, “I’m pretty sure I’ve seen you around but I haven’t formed an opinion of you yet.”

The full-hand steering wheel howdy is usually reserved for dirt roads or slow traffic and close acquaintances.  It expresses, “I’m willing to stop and talk if you want to, but I’m not married to the idea.”

The spread hand steering wheel howdy usually means, “That hay you’re hauling is on fire.”  However, sometimes it might mean, “That trash bag you threw out is caught on your antenna and waving around beside your Confederate battle flag.”

Thumb up canted right means, “Yeah, them boys won last night.”  Or, “Yeah, I heard they dropped the DWI charges.”  Or, “Yeah, I heard you won the lottery.”

Thumb up canted left means, “Just because I’m acknowledging you doesn’t mean I’m your new best friend.”

Then, of course, there’s always this.  Usually stopped, or molasses-slow traffic.  It can mean a lot of things, but one way or another it always means the same thing.  The guy needs a shave and haircut.

Old Jules

Dinah Shore – Dear Hearts And Gentle People – 1949


8AM afterthoughts:

http://selousscouts.blogspot.com/ featured a compact camping setup this morning worth the watch called swissbox home board.  It’s expensive, but a person with a few tools and a bit of imagination could probably produce something similar for the inside of a van or camper, or use outdoors as depicted in the video.  Customized for personal preferences and needs.

Along similar lines http://www.clickclackgorilla.com/ featured RelaxShacks, http://relaxshacks.blogspot.com/ which offers a lot of ideas for other approaches to somewhat the same problem.

Way leads on to way and RelaxShacks led to TinyHouseTalk http://www.tinyhousetalk.com/category/tiny-houses/  .  Lots of good ideas and info there.


This morning I saw the first deliberate aggression I’ve ever beheld on the part of a doe.  When I went out to turn the chickens loose and feed them she came in close and didn’t agree to be run off even a little way while she waited for me to throw out chicken feed to the hens.  I waved a stick at her and she picked out an Australorp layer about 30 yards away, ran at her, kicked her rolling, and appeared intending to do more if I hadn’t come running and yelling to the rescue.

This might be the beginning of a change in policy regarding these starving critters.  I’ve tolerated them storming the place, robbing chicken feed, being a pesky nuisance constantly, even doing minor damage, but I’m not going to tolerate attacks on the hens or cats.

Old Jules

23 responses to “Texas Thumb and Finger Signs

  1. Having grown up here in the country it was just a curiosity thing that you acknowledge everyone.. However, with the influx of city folks and drug dealers in the area now, it’s just not done. Well, we still do it starting a county south of us.
    Now, out is Deep West Texas, say Brewster County, I think it’s a law that you got to acknowledge the oncoming PU. But not cars with women drivers.

  2. I hear every bit of this Jules. Back in the cornfield it was similar but they also used a cock of the head as well for the ones too lazy to lift their finger. Places around here they still do that and I’ll wave many times as well.

    Hell of a good looking feller in that picture!!

  3. I’m particularly liking the “spread hand steering wheel howdy.” It’s uses…. you do know how to state your feelings about certain things.

    Well, thanks for the Sunday morning funnies.

    I am curious, about Old Texans remark. Is the no acknowledging women rule due to respect or the lack thereof?

    Thanks for ending this post with such a cool song. Yes, dear hearts and gentle people.

  4. Ingenius, witty, and quite useful. Now I can drive those long, empty roads in the Big Bend Country with more confidence in my nonverbal communication skills.

  5. I will have to print this out and carry it through Texas. Since I am generally the navigator, and a damn good one, I will be in charge of reading the situation and instructing Annie on the appropriate acknowledgement. Unless it’s true about women drivers, then they’re going to have to get used to seeing us moving through the state and heading out the other end.

    • Ducky – These things probably always varied from county to county, or even person to person. I dunno. I only grew up in one place. But as I understood it, the thumb rule was you didn’t try to finger around with women drivers because women didn’t much play the game, at least on the road.

      It’s not much fun if you can’t engender a response. Sorta leaves you hanging. Besides, in some towns back then, just finding a woman driver on the road in front of you was crazy enough without flourishes.

      I think drive-by fingering developed as an exclusively male affectation. Things may have changed, though. They usually do.

      Anyhow, you’ll probably get the finger right back at ya wherever you go. We’re every bit as friendly as New York.


  6. Oh my….that’s pretty complex. Kinda like throwing gang signs when you get right down to it. Ah well, hopefully out of state plates will get me off the hook for not knowing the system.

    • Hi Brenda: Nearly all Texans nowadays are from out-of-state, though they try not to show it. They’ll get subtle, smug satisfaction from following the rules and you not following them. Thanks for the read and comment. Gracias, J

  7. One Fly – Nice seeing you podner. Yeah, I think more-or-less the same protocols apply throughout the rural US, though there are probably regional variations. Thanks for stopping in. Gracias, J

    Hi Teresa Evangeline: Thanks for the read and comment. That song used to dominate the air on KENM, Portales, NM, when I was a kid. Naturally we inhabiting the listening area congratulated ourselves a lot about it. As for the Old Texan observation, I’ll explain what I think he’s referring to below in the reply to Good Luck Duck. You people share now, hear? Gracias, J

    Fearguth: Nice having you stop in. Hope it adds some amusement on those long endless stretches of pavement. Gacias, J

    Good Luck Duck: Nice of you to stop in. I think the phenomenon Old Texan was talking about had to do with giving the impression of coming on to a woman, giving her the impression of over familiarity, or giving your wife something to get her teeth into, or being seen and becoming the focus of local gossip. I think it’s more a courtesy issue or war department issue than a woman driver issue. Thanks for the read and comment. Gracias, J

  8. blueskiessunnydays.blogspot.com

    In these parts, women tend to be acknowledged with the 3 finger how do you do. Myself, I acknowledge everyone with at least 2 fingers so that I don’t breed contempt for being stuck up or too good. When I know I know someone, they get the full wave and we stop in the middle of the street to say hi, how you doin’?

    • Hi blueskiessunnyday. I appreciate the visit and confession. I’m fairly fond of the three-finger-howdydoo, but I’m a big believer in variety and innovation. Have a great one. Gracias, J

  9. My aunt, beautiful woman, used to wave at men she woud see when they were with their wives. Great fun to watch the expressions. Little wonder I’m warped being raised by women like that

  10. I’m laughing a big belly giggle right now, half because I know what you’re talking about and half because of “That hay you’re haulin’ is on fire.”

    I’m real glad I found this blog.

  11. this has a Hondo Crouch feel to it, I love it…
    finger wave to ya (~_~) loved this post

    Thumb up canted left means, “Just because I’m acknowledging you doesn’t mean I’m your new best friend.”


  12. Very informative, Jules. Maybe I should hire you as advisor since the book I’m writing takes place in Texas Hill Country. Thanks for the info!

  13. I’ve been searching in google for some items and fortuitously found your sofarfromheaven.com site. Thanks for sharing your talent and wholesome information with us. You are a bright light!

  14. Be sure and “tip your hat” to me, cause that’s what real gentlemen do in Texas!!!!!! I might stop and invite you over for some apple pie!!!!!! Love your stories…..such insight…don’t let it all be forgotten……………

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