Three-Finger Salute

Three-Finger Salute


Three-finger salute; but which three fingers … and what does it mean?

The most obvious meaning is to signify a count of three … but we’ll get to that later.

The schwurhand (German pronunciation: [ˈʃvuːɐ̯hant], "swear hand"; Dutch: spreekgebaar) depicting a hand gesture that is used in Germanic Europe and neighbouring countries, when swearing an oath in court, in office, or in swearing-in. The right hand is raised, with the index finger and middle finger extended upwards; the last two digits are curled downwards against the palm. The thumb is shown slightly curled or raised.

The use of the gesture dates back many centuries. Recruits of the Pontifical Swiss Guard at the Vatican City still use the sign when swearing their oath of allegiance to the Pope, in a ceremony performed on 6 May every year since the Sack of Rome in 1527. The use of the three digits is said to symbolise the so-called Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

A different three-finger salute is used by members of Scout and Guide organisations around the world when greeting other Scouts and in respect of a national flag at ceremonies. In his 1908 book, Scouting for Boys, Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the movement, chose the three-finger salute for Scouts to represent the three aspects of the Scout Promise: Honour God and the King, Help Others and Obey the Scout Law. [Ed: That last one seems to be a bit of a catch-all.]

Fast forward to 2010 and the Hunger Games book and film series wherein a different three-finger salute, made by pressing the three middle fingers of the left hand to the lips and then raising it to the air, is used as a symbol of resistance against oppressive government forces.

In a great example of life imitating art, the gesture has been adopted by protesters, particularly for pro-democracy protest movements in Southeast Asia, mainly in Thailand and Myanmar, as well as in other countries, including Hong Kong SAR.

The salute first became a real-world pro-democracy symbol in the aftermath of the 2014 Thai coup d'état. Due to its use, the military announced that it would arrest anyone who displayed the salute and that the symbol was made illegal in Thailand. Protesters have since added symbolism to the gesture, stating that the three fingers stand for the French Revolutionary ideal of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

Finally, as a way of indicating the count of three, it might matter what fingers you use. Anglo Saxons, Americans and Asians would use the middle three, but most Germans signify the count of three using their thumb and two other adjacent fingers, possibly due to their ancient connection to the schwurhand. So when the actor Michael Fassbender, masquerading as a Nazi officer in the 2009 Quentin Tarantino film Inglourious Basterds, fails to do this … his cover is blown and the jig is up. You can watch that memorable scene from the movie HERE.

As UK-born but 25 year German resident Adam StJohn Lawrence posts in response to the relevant question in the online forum Quora:

“Watching the film in Germany, you could hear a sharp intake of breath when he made the order [by raising his three middle fingers]. It was so strikingly foreign, that it was quite implausible that not everyone in the scene noticed it immediately.”

Story Idea: Melanie Giuffré



1. The Scout salute
2. Three-finger heraldic oath: Gommiswald, Switzerland (until 2012)
3. German Reichswehr soldiers swearing the Hitler oath in 1934
4. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss giving the salute in the Hunger Games
5. Thai salute
6. Protesters raising the three-finger salute in Yangon during the 2021 Myanmar protests
7. Film poster for Inglourious Basterds, 2009
8. Video: Nazi Tavern Gunfight, Elsa Anna Arendelle YouTube channel


Back to blog