Some hold that when confronted with unfortunate events, or just when these are mentioned or suggested, a person wanting to avoid that fate could resort to the sign of the horns to ward off bad luck. It is a more vulgar equivalent of knocking on wood. Interestingly, superstitious ones can alternatively "touch iron" (tocca ferro) or touch their noses, which are not considered as vulgar alternatives, or (for males) grab their testicles (the left one with the right hand in Argentina, a country very influenced by the Italian culture), which is considered very vulgar, but is perhaps the most commonplace of the three. In Peru it is shown usually by saying contra (against). In Dominican Republic is usually used the expression zafa as a protection against curses commonly known as fukÃº, as well when a mention is made of someone or something believed to be involved with a curse. All of these gestures are meant to somehow conjure some supernatural power to protect the performer of the gesture. This sign may be used (e.g. in Cuba, Brazil and in Italy) to indicate a man whose wife is unfaithful (probably in the very widespread traditional association of horns with a cuckold), and as with superstitions, gestures to avert harm such as knocking on wood or saying "solavaya" are commonplace.
Such gestures are typically used when a black cat crosses one's path, when seeing a hearse (whether or not it is loaded), or when encountering any situation, object or person believed to bring about bad luck. It was once thought to prevent or distract the effects of the evil eye, that is of intentional or directed curses. Historically the gesture was pointed at people suspected of being witches.
In Italy, pointing the index and little finger at someone is a common curse as well as an accusation of having an unfaithful wife. With fingers down, it is a common apotropaic gesture instead, by which superstitious people seek protection in unlucky situations (something like touching wood). Thus for example the President of the Italian Republic Giovanni Leone shocked the country when, while in Naples during an outbreak of cholera, he shook the hands of patients with one hand while with the other behind his back he made the corna. This act was well documented by the journalists and photographers who were right behind him, a fact that had escaped President Leone's mind in that moment. The gesture was interpreted as especially offensive for the patients. It is much more common in southern Italy, and is typical in the popular culture of Naples, where President Leone was born.
During an European Union meeting in 2002, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi did this gesture during a meeting picture. Asked why, he answered he did it "because it's fun".
European and North American popular culture
Music history and acoustics
Daniel Speer (1636â€“1707) calls this sign "zwey quehr Finger" and designates it as a measure of the distance between adjacent positions on a tenor trombone. Literally "athwart two fingers" this primitive measure may rank along with the cubit in its antiquity. Michael Praetorius (1571â€“1621) uses this term in his Syntagma Musicum III to describe the pitch difference between "Choir tone (Chorton)" and "Chamber tone (Kammerton)." To find the difference between Chorton and Kammerton, one must lower the slide on a tenor trombone made in NÃ¼rnberg the distance of "zwey quehr Finger" which is one-half step; zwei quer Finger is German for "two across fingers".
Contemporary use by musicians and fans
The 1969 back album cover for Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls on Mercury Records by Chicago-based psychedelic-occult rock band Coven, led by singer Jinx Dawson, pictured Coven band members giving the "sign of the horns" correctly and included a Black Mass poster showing members at a ritual making the sign. Starting in early 1968, Coven concerts always began and ended with Jinx giving the sign on stage. Incidentally, the band also recorded a song called "Black Sabbath" on their 1969 album, and one of the band members is named Oz Osborne, not to be confused with Ozzy Osbourne of Black Sabbath.
On the cover of The Beatles' Yellow Submarine album (1969), the cartoon of John Lennon's right hand is making the sign above Paul McCartney's head. For many fans, this was one of the many "Paul is dead" clues. Some may think it is possible that the cartoonist misrepresented the sign for "I love you", which is very similar and more in keeping with the band's public message and image. However, the 1969 cartoon is based on many photos of John Lennon making the hand sign in 1967. One of these photos of Lennon doing the hand sign appears on the cover of a Beatles single release shortly after, making it the first time the hand sign appears on a rock release.
Beginning in the early 1970s, the horns were known to some as the "P-Funk sign" to fans of Parliament-Funkadelic. It was used by George Clinton and Bootsy Collins as the password to the Mothership, a central element in Parliament's science-fiction mythology, and fans used it in return to show their enthusiasm for the band. Collins is depicted showing the P-Funk sign on the cover of his 1977 album Ahh... The Name Is Bootsy, Baby!
Frank Zappa can be seen making the gesture in the 1977 film Baby Snakes.
Music fans sometimes brandish this sign, often accompanied by headbanging, to signify that they enjoy the music they are listening to, mostly when the music is of the rock or metal genre.
Heavy metal subculture
It also has a variety of meanings in heavy metal subcultures, where it is known by a variety of terms, most commonly maloik, metal sign, horns, Leviathan Horns or metal horns, among others.
A March 31, 1985 article in Circus by Ben Liemer states that Gene Simmons of Kiss was influenced by Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P. in 1977 after watching Sister perform in Los Angeles. Blackie had come across a hand salute known as the corna in an occult book and had started using it during live performances.
Simmons appears to be making the sign with his left hand on the cover of the 1977 Kiss album Love Gun. Simmons has later claimedâ€”noticeably in the special features segment "Satan's Top 40" in the movie Little Nickyâ€”that he plays his bass with his plectrum in his middle two fingers so when he raises his hand, he automatically draws the horns.
Steven Tyler, during the pre-ride film for Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith displays a sign of the horns on his forehead during the movie, along with the line "Wait a minute, I love that idea!"
Ronnie James Dio was known for popularizing the sign of the horns in heavy metal. His Italian aunty used it to ward off the evil eye (which is known as malocchio). Dio began using the sign soon after joining (1979) the metal band Black Sabbath. The previous singer in the band, Ozzy Osbourne, was rather well known at using the "peace" sign at concerts, raising the index and middle finger in the form of a V. Dio, in an attempt to connect with the fans, wanted to similarly use a hand gesture. However, not wanting to copy Osbourne, he chose to use the sign his grandmother always made. The horns became famous in metal concerts very soon after Black Sabbath's first tour with Dio. The sign would later be appropriated by heavy metal fans under the name "maloik", a corruption of the original malocchio.
Terry "Geezer" Butler of Black Sabbath can be seen "raising the horns" in a photograph taken in 1971. This would indicate that the "horns" and their association with metal occurred much earlier than either Gene Simmons or Ronnie James Dio suggests. The photograph is included in the CD booklet of the Symptom of the Universe: The Original Black Sabbath 1970â€“1978 compilation album.
From a 2001 interview with Ronnie James Dio on Metal-Rules.com:
"I want to ask you about something people have asked you about before but will no doubt continue to talk about, and that is the sign created by raising your index and little finger. Some call it the "evil eye." I would like to know if you were the first one to introduce this to the metal world and what this symbol represents to you?"
R.J. Dio â€“ "I doubt very much if I would be the first one who ever did that. That's like saying I invented the wheel, I'm sure someone did that at some other point. I think you'd have to say that I made it fashionable. I used it so much and all the time and it had become my trademark until the Britney Spears audience decided to do it as well. So it kind of lost its meaning with that. But it was...I was in Sabbath at the time. It was symbol that I thought was reflective of what that band was supposed to be all about. It's NOT the devil's sign like we're here with the devil. It's an Italian thing I got from my Grandmother called the "Malocchio". It's to ward off the Evil Eye or to give the Evil Eye, depending on which way you do it. It's just a symbol but it had magical incantations and attitudes to it and I felt it worked very well with Sabbath. So I became very noted for it and then everybody else started to pick up on it and away it went. But I would never say I take credit for being the first to do it. I say because I did it so much that it became the symbol of rock and roll of some kind."
Whatever the derivation may be, the sign eventually came to signify, variously, that the one gesturing is rocking him or herself, is encouraging the recipient of the gesture to rock, and/or that he/she emphatically appreciates the rocking that has already commenced.
Existing most often within the metal subculture is a variation in which both hands are used. All digits, with the exception of the little fingers, are closed and the hands are then brought together; thumb on thumb. This technique is often employed by Kirk Hammett of Metallica, Butch Walker and other musicians. A similar sign can be made by crossing the hands and extending both index fingers.
Another form used by the metal subculture (such as the Brazilian band Angra) is similar to the version depicted above, except that all digits except the index finger are closed and the hands are brought together with thumbs pointing in opposite directions. One form features the forearms crossed, the pinkies interlocked, and both thumbs and index fingers extended (sometimes referred to as the "Super Ozzy").
There is a two-person gesture known as the "rock lock", where a second person makes a hand with the second and third finger extended (rather than the first and fourth), and grabs the first person's metal gesture from the front in an interlocking fashion. The meaning is essentially an affirmation or reply to the original gesture made by the first person, something like a heavy metal high five. Another variation can include the second party forming a traditional "devil horns" sign and rotating it 90 degrees, interlocking at the knuckles.
Angus Young holds both his hands to the sides of his head with index fingers extended to create "Metal Horns".
A variation of the gesture, linking ring finger and thumb to give the hand the look of a "wolf", was adopted as the symbol of the Turkish nationalist political party Grey Wolves.
In baseball, the hand gesture is used by players to signal to other players how many outs there are; using this gesture signals that there are two outs. The signal is used because the space between the two fingers makes it easier for players far away to see the two fingers.
The sign has been used in professional wrestling. It was adopted in the early 1990s by Bret Hart in the WWF, with the two extended fingers standing for the initial of his surname. Later on, a variation was used by The Kliq, a backstage group composed of Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Sean Waltman and Triple H) adopted a variation of the horns to identify between them. Hall and Nash used the wolf-like variation after they moved to WCW and formed the nWo stable in 1996. WWE performer Edge also began using it prominently with his "Rated-R Superstar" moniker in the mid 2005s.
The sign is also used by some college and high school sports teams, such as the University of Texas and the University of South Florida, fans during athletic competitions. The fingers usually stand for a type of horn such as longhorn or a bull's horn. Students and fans of the NC State Wolfpack use this sign while the thumb, middle and ring finger move up and down like the howling of a wolf.