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The NonVerbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs & Body Language Cues

Broadside Display


Power cue. The act of enlarging or exaggerating the body's size to dominate, threaten, or bluff an opponent.
Usage: To appear physically powerful, humans and other vertebrates display expanded silhouettes to loom larger than they truly are. Business and military jackets, e.g., exaggerate broad shoulders and wide chests, just as puffer fish (family Tetraodontidae) show swollen profiles by inflating like balloons.
Pisces power. Early fishes may have turned the widest parts of their bodies toward rivals, just as modern cichlid, puffer, and cod fish do today (Marshall 1965).
Chameleon clout. Following pisces, amphibians (e.g., frogs) puff up fraudulently--or deceptively deflate, as the situation warrants--to threaten or yield. Of the toad, Porter states, "It will inflate its body with air, making itself appear much larger, or it will bow its head forward, thus forming its body into a crouched ball" (1967:40). Chameleonsturn a broadside toward enemies to visually "expand" in size, or crouch down to lower their profile and "shrink" (Cloudsley Thompson 1976).
Saurian size. Lizards stiffen all four legs in aggressive high-stand displays. Even limbless snakes appear "bigger" or "smaller" through illusions of size. To threaten, the hognose snake, e.g., rises vertically, widens its head like a cobra, thrusts its body forward, and makes loud hissing noises. But to surrender, it reverses the display: gasps feebly, rolls over on its back, shudders, and plays dead (Porter 1967).
Mammalian mass. Cats, dogs, and other fur-bearing creatures enlarge with "big hair" (see HAIR CUE). Like fish and lizards, cattle turn a broadside when threatened to show their most fearsome angle. The antelope's dark dorsal line, e.g., frames its broadside silhouette for illusory greater size and "nearness."
Primate punch. Our closest relatives, the higher primates, show dominance by straightening and holding their arms away from the body, or submission by bending and pulling the arms into their sides. Mountain gorillas, e.g., beat upon broadened chests, and their body hair stands on end, as the apes give off big-seeming bursts of odor, and claxon-like roars. Few broadsides fill a space more convincingly than the gorilla's rush threat.
Human hubris. A fashionable broadside is tailored into every Brooks Brothers jacket (see BUSINESS SUIT).
Neuro-note. The vertebrate visual system is reflexively designed to warn of danger from suddenly LOOMING objects.
See also CROUCHSWAGGER WALK.


Detail of a police officer's uniform; note visual enhancement of shoulders (picture credit: unknown)