Metal Horns

The metal hand sign is from an Italian gesture to ward off the evil eye.

Famed singer Ronnie James Dio is considered one of the greatest heavy metal vocalists having fronted a host of legendary bands – Rainbow, Dio, and Black Sabbath. In 1979 when he was replacing Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath he wanted to set himself apart from his predecessor. Ozzy would flash the peace sign during concerts and Dio wanted to do something different. He thought back to a hand gesture his Italian grandmother would use to ward off the “malocchio” or “the evil eye.” From this Dio began to flash the “mano cornuto” or the “horned hand” gesture.

Mano Cornuto

The mano cornuto is related to the Italian cornicello charm of a single horn that looks a bit like a chili pepper. They’re both used as protection against the evil eye. The hand gesture has the index and pinky fingers extended and may have evolved from the idea that the two extended fingers are “poking the eyes” of the person giving you the evil eye.

Because Dio was using the sign as the vocalist for Black Sabbath, he helped popularize the gesture in heavy metal culture. Soon other musicians, as well as fans, began to make the same gesture and today it’s used all over pop culture. Dio never claimed to have invented the sign but he certainly did more to make it a part of heavy metal than anyone else.

Added info: Gene Simmons of KISS, never one to pass up an opportunity to shamelessly profit off of something, filed an application to trademark a strikingly similar hand sign. In 2017 he tried to trademark the metal hand sign but with the thumb extended instead of tucked in. What Simmons claimed was his also happens to be the sign for “I love you” in American Sign Language. He later withdrew his application but not before Ronnie James Dio’s widow, Wendy Dio, said of Simmons “To try to make money off of something like this is disgusting. It belongs to everyone; it doesn’t belong to anyone. It’s a public domain; it shouldn’t be trademarked.”

Dio explains the Italian origin of the metal horns.

the Vulcan Salute

Leonard Nimoy got the Vulcan hand sign from a Jewish blessing.

For a 1967 episode of Star Trek: The Original Series Leonard Nimoy’s Vulcan character Spock was to, for the first time in the series, appear with other Vulcans. He decided Vulcans would have their own greeting that isn’t a human handshake or bow. Nimoy thought back to his childhood and remembered an Orthodox religious service he attended. The Jewish Kohanim performed a blessing where they brought their hands together, thumb to thumb, and parted their fingers between their middle and ring fingers (forming two Vs). This hand sign forms the Hebrew letter Shin which is the first letter of “Shaddai”, one of the names of God.

Nimoy took this two-handed blessing and turned it into the one-handed Vulcan salute. This gesture is often accompanied by one of the most famous phrases from Star Trek, “Live long and prosper.” When the “Amok Time” episode aired the hand sign instantly became famous. People would make the sign to Nimoy everywhere he went. Many people thought it was just a fun variation on the peace sign but unbeknownst to them they were (in a way) actually blessing one another.

On the history of the Vulcan salute