It's used to be pretty frequent in movies where I think the person after accomplishing a big task would want to convey to the viewers that "I am awesome and a hot-shot". It starts with bringing your fingers (curled towards the palm) close to your mouth and blowing air on the nails and then wiping something off the left side of chest with your fingers(or nails?). Does there exist a concise phrase I could write instead of describing the whole act? If this on topic, what was the origin of this gesture?

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because gestures are not English Language. Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 8:32
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    @BrianHooper I would suggest that gestures are very much part of the English language. If you go to France you will see that theirs are often quite different. That probably applies to other language groups too.
    – WS2
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 9:04
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    @BrianHooper - The O.P. is asking about the name of the gesture, and polishing your fingernails is English. (That said, I could see why someone might vote to migrate this to ELL. A question asking for the name of a commonly-known item or gesture would be perfectly on-topic there.)
    – J.R.
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 9:05
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    @J.R., you are quite right. I stand corrected. Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 9:05
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    such a good question - esoteric too!!
    – gawkface
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 16:50

4 Answers 4


The gesture is polishing one's fingernails. You mimic blowing some moisture from your breath onto your polished fingernails and using that to restore the shine by rubbing them on your jacket or shirt front. It means, "That impressive thing I just did? I'm so good that it caused me no more trouble than dulling my manicure a bit."

Is this still a thing?

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    +1. I don't think so. Blowing the smoke away from a fired gun is probably more popular in Bollywood movies. Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 8:03
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    You know, I made that gesture many times as a kid, and saw others do it (it was popular in the 1950s), but never knew until now what it meant. Thanks for enlightening me.
    – WS2
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 9:02
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    It's been slightly amended to brushing the dust from your shoulders.
    – user001
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 15:28

It's called buffing [one's] nails and might originate from the Bugs Bunny cartoon. Source

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    That one guy on the internet saw it on Bugs Bunny once isn't, to me, a very compelling origin story.
    – ErikE
    Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 0:26

I'd suggest that there are two gestures here. The first one is buffing his or her nails.. and the second one is "wiping dirt off of your shoulder" or "Brushing it off" which kind of indicates that something is "no big deal" or even that they are better than the thing they are brushing off... its a bit of a showboat.

  • Hi, @klyra, thanks for the answer. Not sure if this is what Jony Agarwal is looking for. He's already aware of what the gesture is conveying; an explanation is contained within his question. Instead, he's asking for a concise phrase, if one exists, to take the place of describing the entire action—but it seems like your response is describing the entire action again instead of offering that concise phrase.
    – freeling10
    Commented Jan 29, 2017 at 4:01

I’m old enough to remember doing this in grade school. We thought it was polishing the medal you got for doing something well

  • Are you offering a name for the gesture, as the poster asked for?
    – Davo
    Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 14:19

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