AskDefine | Define salute

Dictionary Definition



1 an act of honor or courteous recognition; "a musical salute to the composer on his birthday" [syn: salutation]
2 a formal military gesture of respect [syn: military greeting]
3 an act of greeting with friendly words and gestures like bowing or lifting the hat


1 propose a toast to; "Let us toast the birthday girl!"; "Let's drink to the New Year" [syn: toast, drink, pledge, wassail]
2 greet in a friendly way; "I meet this men every day on my way to work and he salutes me"
3 express commendation of; "I salute your courage!"
4 become noticeable; "a terrible stench saluted our nostrils"
5 honor with a military ceremony, as when honoring dead soldiers
6 recognize with a gesture prescribed by a miltary regulation; assume a prescribed position; "When the officers show up, the soldiers have to salute" [syn: present]

User Contributed Dictionary



from Latin salutare "to greet", lit. "wish health to," from salus (gen. salutis) "greeting, good health", related to salvus "safe".



  1. A formal gesture done in honor of someone or something, usually with the hand or hands in one of various particular positions.
    The soldiers greeted the dignitaries with a crisp salute.
  2. Any action done for the purpose of honor or tribute.
    The orchestra performed the concert as a salute to Gershwin.



  1. To make a gesture in honor of someone or something.
    They saluted the flag as it passed in the parade.
  2. To act in thanks, honor, or tribute; to thank or extend gratitude.
    I would like to salute the many dedicated volunteers that make this project possible.

Extensive Definition

this the gesture A salute (also called obeisance) is a gesture (often hand gesture) or other action used to display respect. Salutes are primarily associated with armed forces, but other organizations also use salutes.

Military salutes

In military traditions of various times and places, there have been numerous methods of performing salutes, using hand gestures, cannon or rifle shots, hoisting of flags, removal of headgear, or other means of showing respect or deference. In the Commonwealth of Nations, only officers are saluted, and the salute is to the commission they carry from their respective commanders-in-chief, not the officer themselves.
A common military hand salute consists of raising the right hand, held flat, to the right eyebrow. In the United States, the hand is slightly canted forward, as if shading the eyes so that the palm is not visible to the one being saluted. This salute is based on the British naval salute of the Royal Navy, which is still in use. The British military salute, used by the British Army, Royal Marines, Royal Air Force and the armed services of many of the current and former British colonies in the Commonwealth, is similar, except that the hand is turned so the palm is visible to the person receiving it, and is only used if the person saluting is wearing headdress. When performing a British salute the general method is the right arm is lifted for the brow via a long, full extended cicular motion, however to end the salute there is a simple 'snap' down and the hand is placed back into the attention position, this is commonly known as 'longest way up, shortest way down'. The French Army salute is almost identical to the British Army's. The customary salute in the Polish Armed Forces is the two-fingers salute, a variation of the British military salute with only two fingers extended. In the Russian military, the right hand, palm down, is brought to the right temple, almost, but not quite, touching; the head has to be covered.
In the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard, British Army, Royal Marines, Royal Air Force, Swedish Army, Swedish Navy and the Swedish Air Force hand salutes are only given when a cover (protection for the head, usually a hat) is worn. Officers of the Royal Navy wearing civilian clothes render a hand salute when hatless; if wearing a hat a salute is rendered by lifting the hat (known as 'doffing') instead. The U.S. Army gives salutes both covered and uncovered. Saluting indoors is forbidden except when formally reporting to a superior officer or during an indoor ceremony.
When the presence of enemy snipers is suspected, military salutes are generally forbidden, since the enemy may use them to recognize officers as valuable targets.


The exact origin of this salute has been lost in time. One theory is that it came from Roman soldiers' shading their eyes from the intense light that was pretended to shine from the eyes of their superiors. Another theory is that it came from when men-at-arms wore armor—a friendly approach would include holding the reins of the horse with the left hand while raising the visor of the helmet with the right, so that one would know they meant not to battle them. A third theory is that the salute, and the handshake, came from a way of showing that the right hand (the fighting hand) was not concealing a weapon.

Naval cannon fire

The custom of firing cannon salutes originated in the British Royal Navy. When a cannon was fired, it partially disarmed the ship, so needlessly firing a cannon showed respect and trust. As a matter of courtesy a warship would fire her guns harmlessly out to sea, to show that she had no hostile intent. At first, ships were required to fire seven guns, and forts, with their more numerous guns and a larger supply of gunpowder, to fire 21 times. Later, as the quality of gunpowder improved, the British increased the number of shots required from ships to match the forts.
The system of odd numbered rounds is said to have been originated by Samuel Pepys, Secretary to the Navy in the Restoration, as a way of economising on the use of powder, the rule until that time having been that all guns had to be fired. Odd numbers were chosen, as even numbers indicated a death.
As naval customs evolved the 21-gun salute came to be reserved for heads of state, with fewer rounds used to salute lower ranking officials. Today officers with 5 stars receive 19 rounds; 4 stars receive 17 rounds; 3 stars receive 15; 2 stars receive 13; and a 1-star general or admiral receives 11. These same standards are currently adhered to by ground-based saluting batteries.
Multiples of 21-gun salutes may be fired for particularly important celebrations.

US Army Presidential Salute Battery

A speciality platoon of the 3rd US Infantry (The Old Guard), the Presidential Salute Battery is based at Ft. Myer, Virginia. Guns Platoon (as it is known for short) has the task of rendering military honors in the National Capital Region; these include: Armed Forces Full Honors Funerals; State Funerals; Presidential Inaugurations; full honors wreath ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery; arrivals of Heads of State at The Pentagon, and General officer retirements in the Military District of Washington (MDW), which are normally conducted at Ft. Myer. Guns Platoon has ten vintage World War II hybrid anti-tank guns; each of the guns has a 3-inch barrel which is mounted on a 105 mm Howitzer chassis.

In the colonial context

In the British Empire (originally in the maritime and hinterland- sphere of influence of the East India Company, HEIC, later transformed into crown territories), mainly in British India, the numbers of guns fired as a gun salute to the ruler of a so-called princely state became a politically highly significant indicator of his status, not governed by objective rules, but awarded (and in various cases increased) by the British paramount power, roughly reflecting his state's socio-economic, political and/or military weight, but also as a prestigious reward for loyalty to the raj, in classes (always odd numbers) from 3 to 21 (7 lacking), for the "vassal" indigenous rulers (normally hereditary with a throne, sometimes raised as a personal distinction for an individual ruling prince). Two sovereign monarchies officially outside the Empire were actually granted a higher honour: 31 guns for the royal houses of Afghanistan (under British and Russian influence) and Siam.
In addition, the right to style himself Highness (Majesty, which since its Roman origin expresses the sovereign authority of the state, was denied to all 'vassals'), a title of great importance in international relations, was formally restricted to rulers of relatively high salute ranks (originally only those with 11 guns or more, later also those with 9 guns).

Aerial salutes

A ceremonial or celebratory form of aerial salute is the flypast (known as a "flyover" in the United States), which often follows major parades such as the annual Trooping the Colour in the United Kingdom or the French défilé du 14 juillet. It is seen in other countries as well, notably Singapore and Canada.
Gun salute by aircraft, primarily displayed during funerals, began with simple flypasts during World War I and have evolved into the missing man formation, where either a formation of aircraft is conspicuously missing an element, or where a single plane abruptly leaves a formation.
A casual salute by an aircraft, somewhat akin to waving to a friend, is the custom of "waggling" the wings by partially rolling the aircraft first to one side, and then the other.

From United States Army Field Manual FM 22-5

The rules of saluting are as follows:
  • When you meet someone outside, salute as soon as you recognize an officer (when about six steps away).
  • Salute all officers (recognized by rank) in official vehicles identified by special plates or flags.
  • Salute only on command when in formation.
  • If in a group and an officer approaches, the first soldier to recognize the officer calls the group to attention and all personnel salute.
  • If you approach an officer while you are double-timing alone, assume quick time march and render the hand salute. When the salute is returned, execute order arms and resume double-timing.
  • The salute is always initiated by the subordinate and is terminated only after acknowledgement by the individual being saluted.
  • Accompany the salute with an appropriate greeting, such as, “Good morning/afternoon, sir/ma’am.“
  • Salutes are not required to be rendered by or to personnel who are driving or riding in privately owned vehicles.
  • It is not customary for enlisted personnel to exchange salutes, except in some ceremonial situations.
  • Never render a salute with a noticeable object in your mouth or right hand.
  • If you are on detail and an officer approaches, salute if you are in charge of the detail. Otherwise, continue to work. If you are spoken to, then come to attention.
  • All Medal of Honor recipients are to be saluted by everyone in the military, to include the President of the United States.
Saluting is generally prohibited in field conditions, as it could help an enemy identify officers.

Civilian Salutes

While such gestures as tipping one's hat as one passed others on the street can be considered salutes, the most common civilian salute is rendered to the flag. In the United States, civilians salute its national flag by placing their right hands over their hearts and saying the Pledge of Allegiance. (Men remove any headgear and hold it over their hearts, if applicable.) In Latin America, especially in Mexico, a salute similar to the United States military's salute (see below) is used, but the hand is placed across the left chest with the palm facing the ground. (For a demonstration, see the Richard Dreyfuss movie Moon Over Parador). The same salute was instituted in Albania as the "Zog salute" by King Zog I. In most countries, civilians do not salute the flag, although some may stand at attention when a national anthem is played, the flag raised or lowered, or the Last Post sounded.

Roman salute

The Roman salute is the right hand held flat, palm down and fingers closed, and the right arm raised at an angle of about 45 degrees. It was used by the Roman Republic, by armies of the Middle East (even before being adopted by the Romans) and South America at various times. It was also the historical civilian salute of the United States, from about 1787 to 1934, known since 1892 as the Bellamy salute.
When the Nazi party of Germany adopted the Roman salute from the Italian fascists, President of the United States Franklin Roosevelt instituted the hand-over-the heart as the salute to be rendered by civilians during the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem in the United States. This was done when Congress officially adopted the Flag Code on June 22 1942.
Because of its associations with fascism, the Roman salute is now rarely used outside of neo-Nazi groups. There are several exceptions; one is the Republic of China (Taiwan), where the salute is still used during the inaugurations of government officials. The salute is also still used by some Palestinian militant groups, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the swearing-in oath of the President of Mexico, the Basij militia in Iran, and some Maronite movements in Lebanon.

Clenched fist salute

The raised clenched fist was popularized by the Communist Party, and in some locations it maintains that association. In the United States, the raised fist was associated with the Black Power movement, symbolized in the 1968 Olympics Black Power Salute; a clenched-fist salute is also proper in many African nations, including South Africa. However, the two salutes are somewhat different: in the Black Power salute, the arm is held straight, while in the working-class salute the arm is bent slightly at the elbow.


Many different gestures are used throughout the world as simple greetings. In Western cultures, the handshake is very common, though it has numerous subtle variations of grip strength, amount of "pumping" involved, and use of the left hand.
In many Asian cultures, a simple bow from the waist (rei in Japanese, panbae in Korean) is used, with many regional variations seen. The Japanese keep the palms of their hands touching the fronts of the thighs, but Korean men leave their hands straight down at their sides, while Korean women usually place their hands in their lap while bowing. A gesture called a wai is used in Thailand, where the hands are placed together palm to palm, approximately at nose level, while bowing. The wai is similar in form to the gesture referred to by the Japanese term gassho by Buddhists. A Chinese martial arts greeting features the right hand in a fist with the left hand open covering it with a slight nod of the head. Typically done from the shoulders with a slight bend of the waist. There is also a slight bow used only in paying respects to the dead.
In India, it is common to see the greeting ("Namaste" or "Sat Sri Akal" for Sikhs) where the two hands (palms) are pressed together and held near the heart with the head gently bowed. In Thailand, the men and women would usually press two palms together and bow a little while saying "Savadikap" or "Savadikrap"", depending on gender.
The Arabic term salaam, literally "peace" from the spoken greeting that accompanies the gesture, refers to a low bow performed while placing the right palm on the forehead. Some cultures use hugs and kisses (regardless of the sex of the greeters), but those gestures show an existing degree of intimacy and are not used between total strangers. All of these gestures are being supplemented or completely displaced by the handshake in areas with large amounts of business contact with the West.
These bows indicate respect and acknowledgement of social rank, but do not necessarily imply obeisance.
Many secret societies develop gestures to signal fellow members. In 1830s Missouri, some Mormons formed a militia organization called the Sons of Dan, more commonly known as the Danite band, which developed a salute "whereby ye may know each other anywhere, either by day or night, and if a brother be in distress. It is thus: to clap the right hand to the thigh, and then raise it quick to the right temple, the thumb extending behind the ear."
A common kung fu salute involves making one hand into a fist and covering it with the other hand. There are considerable differences between different traditions as to which hand is made into a fist, and what the salute symbolizes, although it has been noted that unlike a handshake or an elaborate Western-style salute, the kung fu salute does not compromise one's immediate ability to defend one's self. In fact, it is often, perhaps primarily, used to salute an opponent prior to sparring. It may also imply "I am at your service."


An obeisance is a gesture not only of respect but also of submission. Such gestures are rarer in cultures that do not have strong class structures; citizens of the Western World, for example, often react with hostility to the idea of bowing to an authority figure. The distinction between a formally polite greeting and an obeisance is often hard to make; for example, proskynesis (Greek for "moving towards") is described by the Greek researcher Herodotus of Halicarnassus, who lived in the 5th century BC in his Histories 1.134:
When the Persians meet one another in the roads, you can see whether those who meet are of equal rank. For instead of greeting by words, they kiss each other on the mouth; but if one of them is inferior to the other, they kiss one another on the cheeks, and if one is of much less noble rank than the other, he falls down before him and worships him.
After his conquest of Persia, Alexander the Great introduced Persian etiquette into his own court, including the practice of proskynesis. Visitors, depending on their ranks, would have to prostrate themselves, bow to, kneel in front of, or kiss the king. His Greek and Macedonian subjects objected to this practice, as they considered these rituals only suitable to the gods.
In countries with recognized social classes, bowing to nobility and royalty is customary. Standing bows of obeisance all involve bending forward from the waist with the eyes downcast, though variations in the placement of the arms and feet are seen. In western European cultures, women do not bow, they "curtsey" (a contraction of "courtesy" that became its own word), a movement in which one foot is moved back and the entire body lowered to a crouch while the head is bowed.
More elaborate gestures of obeisance are used in formal conditions. The Chinese language term 叩頭 (literally "bump head", spelled kou4 tou3 in pinyin and "kowtow" in English) refers to the act of deep respect shown by bowing so low as to touch the head to the ground. The full kowtow begins kneeling and sitting back on the heels, with the hands on the thighs. The hands are then brought forward to the floor in front of the knees and the body inclined toward the horizontal. Whether or not the head is bowed as well reflects the degree of submission shown — in martial arts practices, for example, the neck is kept straight, but in religious ceremonies the forehead touches the ground. A slightly abbreviated version was developed for use outside and by armed guardsmen, who would flip their long sleeves down to cover their hands, drop to their left knees, place their right hands behind their backs and left palms on the floor in front of them while bowing their heads.
In Islamic traditions, obeisance involves prostrating oneself and kissing the ground.
In South Asia traditions, obeisance also involves prostrating oneself before a king.
Many religious believers kneel in prayer, and some (Roman Catholics, and, rarely, Anglicans) genuflect, bending one knee to touch the ground, at various points during religious services; the Orthodox Christian equivalent is a deep bow from the waist, and as an especially solemn obeisance the Orthodox make prostrations, bending down on both knees and touching the forehead to the floor. During Islamic prayer, a kneeling bow called sajdah is used, with forehead, nose, hands, knees, and toes all touching the ground. Orthodox Jews bow from the waist many times during prayer. Three times during the Yom Kippur service, and once on each day of Rosh Hashanah, Orthodox Jews will kneel and then prostrate.

Marching bands

Hand salutes similar to those used in the military are rendered by the Drum Major of a marching band or drum corps just prior to beginning their performance (after the show announcer asks if the group is ready), as well as following completion of the performance, both rendered to the audience.
The classic "corps style" salute is often known as the "punch" type, where the saluting party will first punch their right arm straight forward from their body, arm parallel to the ground, hand in a fist, followed by the more traditional salute position with the right hand, left arm akimbo. Dropping the salute typically entails snapping the saluting hand to the side and clenching the fist, then dropping both arms to the sides.

Salutes in Fiction


In the Marx Brothers film Duck Soup, the soldiers of Freedonia salute by placing their arm horizontally, with a down-facing open palm, across their chest. In the anime series Crest of the Stars and its sequels, Abh uses the Polish-style two-fingers salute except that in this version, his palm is facing downward.
In the movie 1984 (though not the novel), soldiers marching on parade and the Outer Party members at a frenzied "Two Minutes Hate" wave both clenched fists overhead with their wrists crossed. A very similar gesture is seen in Pink Floyd The Wall, but there the wrists are repeatedly banged together.
In the films based on Tolkien's fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings, the soldiers of the hosts of Minas Tirith in Gondor salute by holding their right hand in a fist over their heart with the enclosed palm facing inwards. This is often accompanied by a half bow or a tip of the head forward. This salute is not specified in the book.
In the film Spaceballs, the titular Spaceballs salute by slapping the left hand upon the right upper arm, thrusting the right arm upwards with fist clenched (with left arm remaining on right upper arm), then rotating the raised hand and wiggling the fingers. (This could be interpreted as an "up yours" gesture, quickly disguised as an innocent "hi there" wave.) Mel Brooks' character, President Skroob, gives the most visibly-detailed example of the salute early in the movie, complete with facial expressions. Later in the movie, he is seen giving the salute hurriedly, inadvertently giving everybody the "up yours" instead of saluting them.
In the film Monty Python's Life of Brian, members of the People's Front of Judea (Officials) salute each other by holding the right hand in a fist to the right temple, palm out.
In the film Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead, characters such as Jimmy "The Saint" Tosnia use a system of saluting each other derived from their time spent incarcerated. When greeting visitors in prison they would each press a palm to the glass divider, the closest they could get to one other. They continue this tradition once released, often followed by an embrace and usually accompanied by the expression "Boat Drinks" (a reference to their ideal situation - drinks on a boat).
In the film Galaxy Quest, the salute is for a fist to be placed over the heart, accompanied by saying "Never give up, never surrender."


Two early TV performers established versions of the salute as their signature closings. Dave Garroway, the first host of The Today Show on NBC, used the open-palm Peace salute in the 1950s. A half-decade later, viewers of American Bandstand host Dick Clark would see him close his show with a military salute and the phrase, "For now, Dick Clark — so long." The salute and phrase has become Clark's trademark.
In the television series The Prisoner, the fictional inhabitants of The Village gesture farewell by forming a ring with the right thumb and index finger while extending the other three fingers and looking through that ring with the right eye. One then lowers the hand and says "Be seeing you."
On the science fiction series Babylon 5, the Psi Cop Alfred Bester character uses a variant of the Prisoner salute - bringing the ring up to his forehead instead of his eye - while retaining the associated phrase.
On the British comedy series Red Dwarf, the fictional character of crewman Arnold Rimmer invented several elaborate salutes such as the "Half Rimmer," the "Full Rimmer," and the "Double Rimmer". In the episode "Holoship", both the crew of the "S. S. S. Enlightenment" and Rimmer salute by holding the right hand up, extending the index and pinky finger, and curling the middle and ring fingers towards the thumb.
Another British comedy to feature the continual use of salutes is Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, this spoof horror 1980s television show contains the main protagonist, Dr Rick Dagless M.D., utilising dramtic salutes in several situations. For example he salutes his fellow doctors after a successful mission or children patients after he's saved their lives.
In Star Trek, the fictional race of Vulcans exchange salutes by showing the right palm and spreading the middle finger and ring finger apart; the forefinger and middle finger are kept together, as are the ring and little fingers, while the persons exchanging salutes often say the words "Live long and prosper", optionally followed by the name or title of the person being saluted. The fictional race of Klingons salute by striking the clenched fist against the chest, then extending the arm. In addition, a roman-based salute is used by the Terran Empire in the Mirror Universe - a clenched fist is struck against the chest, then that arm and hand is held out straight. The arm is held parallel to the ground, rather than raised as with a roman salute. The Nietzschean race of Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda performs a similar salute.
In 3rd Rock from the Sun, the High Commander salutes The Big Giant Head by hitting the palm of his right hand onto his forehead, rotating the hand. The rest of the aliens salute by holding their right hands towards their foreheads with the palm facing upwards and fingers pointing to the right.
In Futurama, Zapp Brannigan salutes by raising his right hand clenched in a fist face down up to his heart, then extended face down up to his right eyebrow (as in a United States military salute), then extending the arm in a horizontal arc, as if flying away. All three parts are performed in one continuous motion.
On Power Rangers: S.P.D., the Space Patrol Delta cadets render the S.P.D. salute that's similar to the Latin American salute by placing their right hands across the left chest with the palm facing down for a half-second and sliding their right hands over their heart, clenching a fist. This was also done in Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger.
In professional wrestling pro wrestler John Cena used a salute during his entrance and just before his finishing move. This salute was subsequently used to promote his movie The Marine.
In Happy Tree Friends, Flippy salutes by shielding his eyes and then chopping downwards in a karate fashion.


In Douglas Adams's novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, the well-known line from Coleridge's Kubla Khan, "Weave a circle round him thrice", is interpreted as the salute of an alien culture: "He waved [his] hand round in a circle, three times."


External links

  • Leonard Wong, Douglas C. Lovelace, Jr.: Knowing when to Salute, Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College, July 2007
salute in Danish: Salut
salute in German: Militärischer Gruß
salute in French: Salut
salute in Hebrew: הצדעה
salute in Italian: Saluto militare
salute in Japanese: 敬礼
salute in Norwegian: Honnør
salute in Swedish: Honnör
salute in Chinese: 敬礼

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

accost, acknowledge, address, adulate, anniversaries, apostrophize, apotheosize, appeal to, approach, beat the drum, belaud, bend, bending the knee, bepraise, bespeak, bid good day, bid good morning, bless, blow up, boast of, bob, bow, bow to, bowing and scraping, brag about, buttonhole, call to, celebrate, celebrating, celebration, ceremony, commemoration, cry up, curtsy, deify, demonstrate respect for, dip, dip the colors, dip the ensign, dipping the colors, do homage to, dress ship, dressing ship, emblazon, embrace, eulogize, exalt, exchange colors, exchange greetings, extol, fanfare, fanfaronade, festivity, flag, flag down, flash, flatter, flourish of trumpets, genuflection, give a signal, give the nod, glance, glorify, greet, greeting, hail, hail and speak, half-mast, halloo, hand-clasp, handshake, hello, hero-worship, hoist a banner, holiday, homage, honor, how-do-you-do, hug, idolize, inclination, invoke, jubilee, kick, kiss, kiss hands, kneeling, kowtow, laud, leer, lift the hat, lionize, magnify, make a sign, make a signal, make much of, making a leg, marking the occasion, memorialization, memory, nod, nod to, nudge, obeisance, obsequiousness, observance, ovation, overpraise, panegyrize, pay homage to, pay respect to, pay tribute, pay tribute to, poke, porter aux nues, praise, present arms, presenting arms, prostration, puff, puff up, pull the forelock, raise a cry, recognize, rejoicing, religious rites, remembrance, render honor to, revel, reverence, rite, ritual observance, salaam, salutation, salvo, say hello, scrape, servility, shake, shake hands, sign, signal, signalize, smile, smile of recognition, solemn observance, solemnization, sound an alarm, sound the trumpet, speak, speak fair, speak to, stand at attention, stand to attention, standing at attention, submission, submissiveness, take aside, talk to, testimonial, testimonial banquet, testimonial dinner, toast, touch, touch the hat, tribute, triumph, trumpet, uncover, unfurl a flag, wave, wave a flag, wave the hand, wink
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