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The NonVerbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs & Body Language Cues

Anatomical Position



Like a marionette, Jimmy's body obeyed an unnatural yet coherent set of physical laws all their own. Alternating contractions and expansions, tautness dissolving into jangling looseness, his body seemed to operate on hinged joints held up from a point beneath the nape of his neck, his psychological springs like the shade too tightly wound. --Elia Kazan, commenting on actor James Dean (Dalton 1984:53-4)

Standard. 1. An arbitrary position of the body used to define movements as deviations from the standard it defines. 2. An unusual posture, suggestive of humility or supplication, in which the body stands upright with arms extended by its sides, palms rotated forward, and feet resting flat upon the floor.


Usage: Myriad joints in our hands, arms, feet, legs, shoulders, pelvis, and spine make the possible number of body movements and gesturesincalculably immense. Thus, in recording an observation, anatomical position is useful as a schematic device for description. Movements away from its standard may carry information as signs.

Anatomy. "Close inspection reveals it [anatomical position] as an energy consuming position, seldom actively adopted and involving some scapular rotation and adduction, full lateral rotation of the humerus, direct mediolateral disposition of the elbow joint's axis, full supination of the forearm and hand and with the pollex [thumb] laterally placed!" (Bannister 1995:15).

Literature. ". . . in the blurred circles of light . . . appeared a chin upturned, two closed eyelids, a dark hand with silver rings, a meager limb draped in a torn covering, a head bent back, a naked foot, a throat bared and stretched as if offering itself to the knife." --Joseph Conrad (Lord Jim)

Media. Few of us ever use this unnatural posture. However, in the 1951 movie, An American in Paris, Gene Kelly waited in anatomical position below a fountain for his dance partner, Leslie Caron, to return to his side. With his hands in the palm-up position, Kelly's humble "open" posture invited her to approach. The anatomical posture is seen on TV in NFL football games, as well, in players who are accused of pass interference.