‘Star Trek’ Secrets Revealed! The Story Behind Spock’s Vulcan Salute

Movie Talk
Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto
Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto

When Spock started exploring the final frontier that is space with the rest of the U.S.S. Enterprise crew in 1966, his pointy ears and eyebrows signified he was another species. But a year passed on "Star Trek" before we got to see him in his element on his home planet of Vulcan, throwing up that famed hand gesture.

The Vulcan salute was Spock actor Leonard Nimoy's idea and Nimoy's idea alone. The well-known gesture first appeared in the second-season premiere episode of "Star Trek" titled "Amok Time." In it, Spock returns to his home planet after having been away for a long time. "I suggested to the director there should be some Vulcan thing that Vulcans do when they greet — like humans shake hands or military people salute each other, Asian people bow to each other. We have rituals," Nimoy recalled during an extensive interview in 2000. He remembered throwing up his hand in the gesture rather quickly as an example of something to consider, "and the next thing you know it's in the script!" he recalled with a laugh, then acknowledged, "It caught on."

President Obama and 'Star Trek' star Nichelle Nichols in 2012
President Obama and 'Star Trek' star Nichelle Nichols in 2012

It sure did. Over the years, the Vulcan salute has been re-enacted by fans, mocked by comedians, and even reinvented. (Remember Robin Williams doing his version of the alien hand jive on the '80s sitcom "Mork & Mindy"?) President Obama — a self-professed "Star Trek" fan — has thrown that Vulcan hand signal a few times, and other celebrities who have made the renowned V-shape by parting their ring and middle fingers include Reese Witherspoon, Jim Carrey, and Pharrell Williams.

Zachary Quinto, who took over the role of Spock in 2009 and reprises the role in "Star Trek Into Darkness" (opening Thursday), had trouble with the Vulcan salute at first. He would rubber band his ring finger and his pinky finger while driving around Los Angeles and do Vulcan-style hand exercises in the months leading up to shooting. The 35-year-old actor was so challenged by it, director J.J. Abrams had to glue his fingers into position.

Watch 'Star Trek Into Darkness' Insider Access Laughs:

Nimoy makes a pretty awesome appearance in the reboot as Spock's older counterpart from a parallel universe. The two Spock actors are friends on- and offscreen. "I see Leonard very often," Quinto told Yahoo! Movies during a recent interview. "Whenever we're in the same city we get together and we spend a lot of time together and speak often as well."

We'll assume that's given Quinto enough time with the originator of the Vulcan salute to learn from the master.

The Priestly Blessing performed by Jewish Kohanim
The Priestly Blessing performed by Jewish Kohanim

But where on earth did Nimoy get the idea to put his alien hands in such a formation? "That came from my Jewish background," Nimoy said in 2000. It's a gesture used in the Priestly Blessing during Jewish services. Priests give the hand gesture — similar to the Vulcan salute but with two hands — to bless their congregation. Priests form their hands in the shape of the letter Shin (or Sin) from the Hebrew alphabet. It's a name for God. "I saw it done as a kid, was entranced by it, and so I brought it into 'Star Trek,'" Nimoy explained.

As for the origins of Spock's legendary quote, "Live long and prosper" — that's a different story. But the famed line debuted in the same "Star Trek" episode as did the Vulcan salute.

Watch 'Star Trek Into Darkness' Clip: What Would Spock Do:

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