Peter Frank Thompson
5 min readJun 20, 2020


It seems I’m “ignant” because I didn’t know something that some group of people made up and then expected everyone else to know.

Surely, everybody knows what the “OK” sign is, and what it isn’t … don’t they?

Well, I thought I did, but apparently the sign authorities have made up a new rule. It would have been nice to have it explained somewhere though.

Let’s digress for a moment though. In my last two years of primary school I fronted up to play in the school rugby league team. Apparently I could sprint a bit so they made me a winger: stuck on the end of a line where apparently the ball sometimes arrives and you’re supposed to run with it. Only not ever — not once — did anyone ever explain the rules of the game. Perhaps we were meant to just have it transmitted in our DNA.

You could ask, But why didn’t you ask? Well, you’re 10 or 11 years of age and everyone else appears to know what to do; who’s going to make a fool of themselves by asking a question to which everyone should know the answer because, well, everyone knows how to play rugby league. Unless they don’t — but in central west NSW (Australia), that’s unthinkable.

Cricket was the same. Well it was until we finally got a PE teacher who realised that many had no clue how to bat or bowl. He tried. Some succeeded. Personally, I decided that standing around in a dusty field in the middle of a 40°C afternoon waiting for some lethally hard projectile to come hurtling in your direction was insane, especially if you hadn’t been taught how to catch it safely. Surely the rules and skills of cricket had been passed to you in your DNA? No, sorry.

I did catch sunburn though.

But now I ask. And so I did in my relatively civilised corner of Twitter recently.

The newspapers showed a police officer holding up a hand with his thumb and forefinger joined. It looked like what I’d always known as an “OK” symbol. It was reported as what “appeared” to be a white power symbol.

The police officer was reported as saying he didn’t know it had any other meaning. Now, I know that police are not the flavour of the month at the moment, especially in the US, and that seems to be overflowing into Australia. But perhaps he really didn’t know.

What amazes me is humans’ propensity to be absolutely certain they know what is occurring in the mind of another — with spurious “evidence” at best.

I’ve tried to find out what the white power symbol is but I’m still confused. Wikipedia suggests it’s the OK sign upside down, but that wasn’t definitive. And it seems that some think there is more nuance than that.

One tweeter (is that the correct word?) pronounced that the police officer was “either a liar, or an utter idiot”.

Perhaps assuming the role of the idiot myself, I replied: You don’t know that. The picture in the press I saw is the ONLY thing I’ve ever known as an “OK” sign. I’ve no idea what the white power sign is — Wikipedia suggests it’s the OK sign upside down, but how would you know as people make these things up but don’t publish the “rules”. I followed with the polite question: If it wasn’t an “OK” sign, could you please explain what is?

I was genuinely curious to know how to distinguish what I thought was an OK sign from the white power sign so that I could avoid inadvertently using the latter.

One snippy little number replied with: Given you claim to be addicted to learning…..go do some. Now, my best teachers always taught me to ask questions to learn. I asked a question in order to learn but got a rude, ignorant answer.

Undeterred I persisted by enquiring, politely, of the earlier tweeter if they could explain the difference between the OK sign and the white power sign. Apparently it’s this: Used with 3 splayed fingers by a white cop at a #BLM protest is a different meaning. You might not be aware of it, but cops are.

Another joined in, jocularly, with After the recent scandals over the last few years not knowing that in that context would be ‘ignant’.

Two issues arise here. First, the “3 splayed fingers” is a curious nuance. It’s not what Wikipedia suggests (i.e. upside down OK sign). And, how splayed — a long way apart, a little bit? Second, the absolute certainty that “[all] cops are” aware of it. How does he know? Has he interviewed every cop? Is it in the police training manuals?

There are good and bad in every field. There are criminal lawyers and there are decent lawyers who defend accused. There are doctors who do bad things with patients and there are doctors who are wonderful souls and miracle workers. There are even some honest politicians out there. And there are good cops, even though the current zeitgeist is reluctant to admit that.

The media (that I saw) did not provide evidence of what was really in the mind of that young police officer. It is possible that he is a young Fascist worthy of Hitler’s SS. But without any other evidence, it is equally likely he was simply gesturing to someone that what they were doing was OK.

What is worrying is the certainty that many have that they knew that young officer’s intention. It’s frightening in many respects. When there is no willingness to accept evidence that might be contrary to our bias imagine, for example, what could happen in courts of law.

There’s a time to bow out of the some Twitter exchanges before they become tribal slanging matches. Looking again at the thread that kept going, there were two clear camps: one allowing that the police officer really did not know that his sign might be a white power sign (might be, I emphasise); the other convinced he was just one of the collective demon known as the “cops”.

Michael Lynch speaks compellingly of such ills in his worthy book, Know-it-all Society.

And in all of this, one was supposed to just know what the white power sign is. It’s hard to play if you don’t know the rules. Like rugby league or cricket you can just withdraw and not play. And signs: well, the OK sign has now been hijacked it seems, so that’s out.

However, maybe there could be another approach.

Years ago I was planning to get an ear pierced. It was said — you know how it goes, They say … — that in one part of Australia if it was in your right ear it meant you were gay. But then they said that in another part of Australia the left ear meant you were gay. Dilemma!

Ignoring the haphazard rules that you’re just supposed to know, I got both ears done and when questioned on why both, I replied: I’m bicomputeral; I can use Macs and PCs.

However, I’m yet to resolve what I now could use for an OK sign without it being mistaken. Perhaps just a friendly smile — hopefully that won’t invoke a tribal disapproval because someone has decided it means something completely contrary to what it’s always meant.