American actor, filmmaker and writer Leonard Nimoy is still regarded as one of the biggest symbols in popular culture for his iconic performance as Spock in the Star Trek series. Starting from the pilot episode of 1964 to his final performance as the legendary character in 2013, Nimoy managed to charm multiple generations of Star Trek fans who will revere his work forever. On the 90th anniversary of his birth, we revisit the origins of the famous Vulcan salute devised by Leonard Nimoy.
In the Star Trek universe, Vulcans were an extraterrestrial species who looked like humans but their outlook on life was completely different. Instead of allowing themselves to be ruled by emotions, the Vulcans let logic and reasoning dictate most of their actions. Spock was half-Vulcan and half-human, bridging the gap between the vast cultural differences of the two species. The creation of Spock was so monumental in shaping the sensibilities of popular culture that fans rank him alongside the likes of Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings and Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
The Vulcan salute was a special hand gesture devised by Nimoy himself for the original television series as an indicator for his belief that the Vulcans were “hand-oriented people”. In an interview with the New York Times, he described the salute as a “double-fingered version of Churchill’s victory sign”. The iconic gesture looks like a V, formed by a division between the middle finger and the ring finger with an extended thumb. Some of the actors from the original series even faced difficulty while maintaining the hand sign and had to do it off-screen.
Nimoy explained the origins of the Vulcan salute in his 1975 autobiography, reflecting on his own experiences as a child. Nimoy’s grandfather used to take him to an Orthodox synagogue where he saw this blessing for the first time which was supposed to represent the Hebrew letter Shin (ש) which referred to the divine. In a 2013 interview, he also said that the thing he enjoyed most about people greeting each other with the Vulcan salute was: “People don’t realise they’re blessing each other with this!”
As a tribute to Nimoy shortly after his death in 2015, people all over the world expressed their admiration with Vulcan salutes. The Vulcan salute was even seen in space, with astronauts Terry W. Virts and Samantha Cristoforetti posting pictures of the Vulcan salute while orbiting Earth.