The NonVerbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs & Body Language Cues


She went past me in long smooth strides and sat down on the edge of the chaise-longue. --Philip Marlowe, describing client's daughter, Vivian Regan (The Big Sleep, 1939:221)

He even walked like a crab, as if he were cringing all the time. --Elia Kazan, commenting on actor James Dean (Dalton 1984:53)

Body movement. To travel by taking steps with the legs and feet, at a pace slower than jogging, sprinting, or running.

Usage: While we walk on our hind limbs to commute from point A to point B, the manner and style of our gait (e.g., marchingmincing, or swaggering) telegraphsinformation about our status, feelings, and moods. Our bipedal walk's two-point rhythm provides the neurological foundation for a. music's syncopated beat, and b. the oscillating movements of dance.

Anthropology. A bipedal stride enabled our human ancestors to cover great distances on African grasslands ca. three m.y.a. Survival required that they stay continually on the move (Devine 1985). The earliest physical evidence for human-style walking dates back 3.5 m.y.a. to the tracks of three upright ancients (probably australopithecines) who strolled across a bed of fresh volcanic ash one day on the east-African savannah, in what is now Laetoli, Tanzania. The footprints are nearly identical to those of modern humans, only smaller.

Evolution. Our legs originated ca. 400 m.y.a. from the lobe fins of Devonian fishes resembling crossopterygians

Media I. "I am in the moment, living the experience, when I am walking." --Joy Jones ("Meaningful Steps," Washington Post, p. D5, September 11, 1992).

Media II. The scariest movie monsters walk upright like human beings. Their resemblance to people renders them even more terrible than ordinary land (i.e., quadrupedal), air, and sea monsters. Bipedal dynosaurs (e.g., Velociraptor and Tyrannosaurus in the 1993 movie Jurassic Park), insectoids (Aliens, 1996), and primates (King Kong, 1933) resonate with horrific images of the upright human form.

Pediatrics. Babies begin advancing one limb at a time on all fours between the 6th and 9th months of life, to crawl for the sheer pleasure of movement (Chase and Rubin 1979). Infants are born with two walking reflexes. The plantar reflex causes an infant's lower limbs to contract the extensor muscles when their feet touch a horizontal surface. Held under the arms, a baby can support its own weight and take several steps forward. The plantar reflex lasts for two months, and is not present in all infants. When a baby's leg touches the side of a flat surface, it will automatically lift its leg and place its foot on the horizontal plane. This, the tactile placing reflex, is also present in many other terrestrial vertebrates.

Philosophy I. Followers of Aristotle (384-322 BC), who founded the Lyceum in 335 BC, were known as peripatetics because they walked and underwent "restless practices" (Flew 1979:265) as they thought and shared ideas, rather than merely sitting in place.

Philosophy II. The two-point rhythm of walking's stride clears the mind for thinking. (N.B.: Perhaps, after telling the spinal circuits to "take a walk," the forebrain shifts to automatic pilot, so to speak, freeing the neocortex to ponder important issues of the day.) Many philosophers were lifetime walkers, who found that bipedal rhythmsfacilitated creative contemplation and thought. In his short life, e.g., Henry David Thoreau walked an estimated 250,000 miles--ten times the circumference of earth.

U.S. politics. "The black-footed species [of Pacific albatross, nicknamed "gooney bird"] . . . has a more distinctive walk--head down and clavicles hunched like shoulders. 'After [Richard Milhous] Nixon visited here [Midway Island] during Vietnam, the black-footed species' distinctive method of walking suddenly looked familiar,' says [U.S. Fish and Wildlife manager Rob] Shallenberger. 'Since then, it's been referred to as the Nixon walk'" (Friend 2000:54).

E-Commentary: "I was hoping you might be able to help me. I am a New York based author writing a book called The Encyclopedia of Aggravations and Annoyances. I am trying to find information on a particular occurrence, when you're walking down the street and you try to pass someone but you both dodge to the right then to the left. I have read articles on this in the past, but I have been unable to find them again. As the director of the Center for Nonverbal Studies, I was hoping you might be able to point me in the right direction?" Laura Lee (4/5/01 8:56:24 PM Pacific Daylight Time)

RESEARCH REPORTS1. "The legs of an amphibian served the same function as the inertial force of water for a swimming animal, providing a fulcrum that enabled earlyamphibians to be little more than fish that swam on land" (Jerison, 1976:11). 2. Basal ganglia initiate movement and ". . . are responsible for the automatic movements we make without thinking" (Restak, 1995:16).

Neuro-notes I. The natural rhythm of our upright, bipedal gait is coordinated by the same spinal paleocircuits that programmed the oscillatory swimming motions of the early fishes (Grillner 1996).

Neuro-notes IISomething deep in our vertebrate soul finds walking for its own sake an evolutionary necessity. Impulses to go on walkabout are coordinated by oscillatory circuits of the spinal cord, by excitatory centers of the aquatic midbrain, and by the basal ganglia of the reptilian forebrain. (N.B.: Neurologically, our nonverbal nature lies in movement.)

Neuro-notes IIIMirror neurons: Mirror neurons for walking are found in the human brain's superior temporal sulcus. (Source: Thagard, Paul [2010]. The Brain and the Meaning of Life [Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press].)

Photo of "Runners" (Spokane, Washington, USA) by Doreen K. Givens (copyright 2007)