My question does not regard the word, but a facial expression.

Albert Einstein’s picture of sticking out his tongue is so popular and humorous, but I’ve been wondering under what situation the picture was taken, and what the picture connotes, every time I’ve seen it.

In our country, the gesture of sticking out one’s tongue means rejection (No!), denial (I told you a lie) or embarrassment (I made a mistake). This gesture is more often made by children rather than by grown-ups.

What does the gesture of sticking out one’s tongue mean as a body language among Anglo-Americans?

closed as off-topic by TimLymington, David M, RyeɃreḁd, Hellion, Kristina Lopez Mar 24 '14 at 18:19

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    This seems to be a question of culture, not about the English language, and depends entirely on context— one can do it to tease or to amuse, though metaphorically, it is [a gesture of contempt].(idioms.thefreedictionary.com/stick+tongue+out) – choster Nov 25 '13 at 23:52
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    @choster. There is a legitimate tag to correspond to the meaning of gesture - 'gestures' in EL&U site. I'm not asking culture. I'm asking meanings of this specific body sign interpleted among native English speakers. – Yoichi Oishi Nov 26 '13 at 0:20
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about (probably culturally acquired) gesture conventions, not about the English language. – FumbleFingers Jan 9 '14 at 21:45
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    I feel obliged to add that Albert Einstein was a German, so this really is a question about German gesture conventions. – RegDwigнt Jan 10 '14 at 0:18
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    @YoichiOishi "On Einstein's 72nd birthday on March 14, 1951, UPI photographer Arthur Sasse was trying to persuade him to smile for the camera, but having smiled for photographers many times that day, Einstein stuck out his tongue instead." (source) – IQAndreas Jan 10 '14 at 3:47

A directly stuck-out tongue is a gesture of contempt.

It would once have been more offensive than now, but because it is now mostly associated with children, it will often be taken as childish teasing rather than an earnest insult. It is this level of cheekiness that Einstein was presumably aiming at.

The origins are lost. Lévi-Strauss suggested it may originate from babies rejecting food or a breast by pushing it out of their mouths with their tongue, which seems plausible enough, but impossible to prove or disprove.

A variant adding a wagging gesture combines this with a simulation of cunnilingus*, combining the rebelliousness of the tongue-out gesture with a boast of sexual prowess. Gene Simmons use of this in KISS made it a piece of rock-and-roll imagery copied by others.

There's certainly a matter of language in a way, in that the gesture and other tongue-out gestures mean very different things in some other cultures: In the Maori Haka (and adopted into use by New Zealand rugby teams) it's an expression of fierceness (and I think can have other meanings aside, but don't know for sure) and in Tibet it can be a sign or respect. As such it's a learned signifier and hence language, rather than universal.

*Pretty bad cunnilingus. I've always wondered about the utility of a boast of sexual prowess that seems to suggest "I give head with a tongue flapping like a plastic bag caught in a draft, and am so ignorant of how lousy this technique is that I even boast of it".

  • "Like everyone else, Miley feels awkward and a little self conscious posing for photos and as she is one of the most talked about celebrities right now, looking good in photos is really a stressful thing and so Miley would rather just put her tongue out of her mouth than smile for the cameras" au.ibtimes.com/articles/524880/20131125/… – gerryLowry Nov 26 '13 at 2:53
  • @gerryLowry most commentry on Miley Cyrus' recent habit focus on the sexual interpretation I mention above (it does seem to be the sexual variant, rather than the plainer stuck-out-tongue), but I would guess the place it has in Rock and Roll imagery I also mentioned is also something she is aiming for. – Jon Hanna Nov 26 '13 at 9:43
  • +1 for figuring out a way to bring cunnilingus into the discussion, and especially bad cunnilingus! – David M Feb 26 '14 at 16:40
  • @DavidM well, it is relevant to variants of stuck-out-tongue as signifier. I suppose though that if anyone were labouring under the illusion that it represents a generally good approach (a bit in the mix is another thing), then it might be one of my more practically useful answers here :) – Jon Hanna Feb 27 '14 at 2:06

It's like flipping someone off, except much less extreme or offensive, and more often done by kids.

If replaced with words it would be something like "haha, you're a loser!"


What makes the picture of Albert Einstein great is that he one of the smartest adults of all time that is acting a little childish. Everyone always thinks of Albert Einstein only has a scientist or physicists but never saw that he also had a sense of humor.

In general though the gesture of sticking out one’s tongue is usually only done by children. As you become an adult your expressions change and it is no longer used. Unless in the rare case you are imitating a child. (As seen in the picture of Albert Einstein.)

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    All true but the question was what the gesture means in the Anglo-Saxon world, not why the Einstein photo is popular. – terdon Nov 26 '13 at 0:19

In the area of Chicago's Westside that I commute through to and from work, it is gesture that street walking prostitutes use to signal male motorist that they are hookers and soliciting a quick blow-job.

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    While probably true, I would hesitate to say that this is the most common meaning. – David M Feb 26 '14 at 16:39

I have also heard that sticking ones tongue out = kiss me quick and don't slobber

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    Heard from whom? – choster Jan 9 '14 at 21:59
  • I have never heard somebody understanding the gesture this way. I am sure my American friend would disagree with you. (I could even test it without telling her what I am testing, but I am sure she would not kiss me.) – kiamlaluno Mar 22 '14 at 5:21

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