I want to describe this motion with words. What would be the concise way?

(Actually it's this motion but with the hands closer to the lap than the face but that's not very important)

enter image description here

  • When done near the face like this, it has a connotation of dark contemplation. (scheming) If done near the lap, I'm not sure. I'd have to see it on context. It might have a different meaning.
    – TecBrat
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 11:44
  • Somewhat tangental, but another scheming gesture is "dry washing" - rubbing one's hands together, as a villain would do while saying "it's all going to plan…"
    – MachineElf
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 15:08
  • 3
    I think I've heard the phrase "tented his hands".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 16:53
  • I can't decide if that's Peter Dinklage or the bad guy from Superman II...
    – Mazura
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 20:04

3 Answers 3


Steepled is the term.

It is more widely understood as "steepled fingers" rather than "steepled hands" though.

  • 4
    I've always called it "Mr Burns hands", after the Simpsons character. Now that I know there's a proper word for it, I'm not sure I want to abandon my reference :(
    – Polynomial
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 11:16
  • Hello, @Polynomial It is nice to see you around here! Mr. Burns was #3 in Google image search for steepled hands ;O) Commented Nov 15, 2014 at 10:52
  • 1
    This is the right term. See body language project for more info on why this is not a rapport-building thing to dk with others
    – Ahmed
    Commented Nov 15, 2014 at 21:30
  • I’ve never heard “steepled” and have only heard “tented” for this. I suspect region may be a factor. I’m writing from a predominantly AmE background. Commented Nov 18, 2014 at 21:35
  • 1
    @Ellie It could even be regional within the US! They say on line out there when people are in line for something, for one thing Commented Nov 23, 2014 at 20:10

Tented hands or tented fingers.

Here is a Slate.com blog post with this caption and image:

enter image description here

How did finger-tenting become a symbol of evil?


David Foster Wallace calls this making hand cages, or pyramids, or shapes in "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" in the context of a woman visiting her therapist.

  • Many authors might have described it in their own words. Comparing it with familiar shapes makes for an easy interpretation of the phrase, but that doesn't mean it's common.
    – Joachim
    Commented May 2, 2022 at 10:20

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