I probably have seen this happen at various times in movies set in eras where people were very obsequious to royalty. The action I am trying to find the word for is a motion of the hand in a kind of circular motion or spiral (generally towards and away from oneself) while bowing towards someone, often while slowly moving backwards.

My first thought was "genuflect" although to me that invokes the image of someone making the sign of the cross (although the dictionary doesn't seem to mention this, or in fact any hand movement - it seems to be closer to bowing then the hand movement) and I am looking for a word without any religious connotations.

My second thought was "flourish" as that seems to be technically correct to some degree in the sense of "a bold or extravagant gesture or action, made esp. to attract the attention of others", but this word seems to have too many meanings that might confuse, and I am not sure anybody would recognize what I was talking about unless I put a lot of context into the sentence with it, or maybe even if I did!

  • There's a wonderfully florid description of this action in Terry Pratchett's Wyrd Sisters, but I can't recall a specific term. I'll see if I can dig it up.
    – TRiG
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 18:36
  • I suspect that the connotations are there because in modern western society, worship is one of the few places where such behavior is preserved.
    – horatio
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 18:37
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    I think you're simply mistaken in assuming "genuflection" implies religiosity and cross-signing. There's nothing wrong with genuflection, flourish, or extravagant gesture in the context of an "overdone" bow. Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 19:01
  • 3
    @FumbleFingers Surely 'genuflect' has to do with what happens with the knees - (L - genua; Fr-genou).
    – WS2
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 19:08
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    How about an obsequious or deferential hand gesture? I think automatically of those films--period pieces--in which the monarch's subjects, with their wigs and high heel shoes and feathered hats, remove their hats, bow, and gesture in a way that seems to say, "I am at your disposal, Majesty," or when done sideways, "After you, your Majesty." Don't know if there's a single English word for this gesture, however. Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 19:43

5 Answers 5


How about "twirl"? I think "flourish" would effectively convey what you are talking about to anyone familiar with the gesture, but "twirl of the hand" might give more of a physical hint to someone less familiar.


I would think flourish captures its inclusion in a bow (per Emily Post's Etiquitte readable at http://www.bartleby.com/95/4.html), but she is not specifically referring to this motion as far as I read it.

I think salute, homage, or obesiance could also work.

In nearly any cases, an explanation would be necessary.


"Gesticulation" is a good word for describing any overt manual gesture. So with that in mind, would "a florid display of manual gesticulation" possibly fit this scenario?


Body language that says

Your obedient servant who has completed the task his/her highness has required, your highness having wisely chosen my humble being to perform such, and with all respect for your superior station, your esteemed house, and generations of impressive ancestors.

It’s all there in the low stoop and hand flourishes. It wastes none of the royal’s time, taking just a couple seconds to perform while backing away before turning around and retreating out of the picture. It’s over-the-top, childish, and funny. Good for a laugh, like when you don’t speak the local language and yet you do a silly favor in a one-off light hearted public setting. A youngster was trying to break off long icicles, having difficulty not shattering them, so a tall foreigner (me) went a couple steps out of his way to reach way up and break a long thin one, presenting it like a gift. Then I rode on down the mountain.


Hand rotation while bowing and moving back. I believe it is a mechanical motion of the hand, not necessarily leaning towards imagination and fancy words.

  • The question was after a single word for the action. If you don't believe a single word exists, you should make that clear. Commented Jul 20, 2021 at 6:21

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