It's such a fun game to play with babies and tots. "I've got your nose!" you say playfully, after you've made a gentle swipe. To prove you've really snatched their proboscis, you hold up your hand, curled in a fist, with your thumb sticking up in between your pointer and middle finger. Your thumb, of course, is supposedly the baby's nose. Alas, while this game is common in the U.S., Australia and Canada, it's never played in Turkey. In that country, the hand gesture, commonly known as "the fig," is like calling someone an unprintable name [source: Peters]. It's also quite insulting to people in Indonesia, Italy, India, China and Russia [sources: Language Trainers, Link].
This gesture hails back to ancient times, when the Romans used it to indicate sexual union. In a positive manner, that is — to wish someone good luck and fertility. It also was seen as a protective measure against the evil eye. The Romans called the gesture mano fico, or fig hand, as they felt the thumb-in-fist looked like a woman's private parts. "Fica" is Italian for fig, and also slang for vulva; Romans equated figs with female fertility [source: Symbol Dictionary]. Interestingly, the gesture is also the same used for the letter T in American Sign Language [source: Language Trainers]. Oops.