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Leonard Nimoy created Star Trek’s Vulcan salute from childhood memory

Star Trek legend Leonard Nimoy, who starred as Spock and directed The Voyage Home, created the iconic Vulcan salute from one fascinating childhood memory.

Leonard Nimoy as Spock doing the Vulcan salute

When you think of Star Trek, you probably think of the iconic Vulcan greeting with the palm held up and the fingers split at the middle: it’s still the symbol of Star Trek, and it was created by Leonard Nimoy.

Across the vast Star Trek timeline, Nimoy starred as the Vulcan science officer (and later captain) Spock. Along with Kirk and Bones, Spock was one of the leading Star Trek characters, propelling the franchise forward through its Star Trek series and Star Trek movies.

Nimoy himself was a certified Star Trek legend, not just for his role on camera but behind it too. He directed two of the best movies in the franchise with The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home, and would go on to help with scripts and stories in the future too. Well before that, though, it was Nimoy’s idea to create the famous Vulcan salute, starting in the TOS episode Amok Time.

“We had a wonderful script by Theodore Sturgeon called Amok Time,” said Nimoy, sharing the origin of the Vulcan salute while talking with EPIX in 2014. “We arrive on the planet [Vulcan] and a  procession comes out from the city to greet us. I said to the director, ‘I think we should have some kind of a special greeting. Asian people bow to each other, military people salute each other. I think Vulcans should have some kind of greeting.’ He said, ‘What would you like to do?’ and I said this: [holding up the Vulcan salute].”

He continued, “Where it came from was my childhood, going to a synagogue on holidays with my family. There’s a moment where a group of men get up before the congregation, cover their heads with their shawls, and chant a prayer. My father said,’Don’t look.’ I’m about 8 or 9 years old, so I snuck a peek.”

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“What I saw were these gentlemen up their with their hands out toward the congregation like that, both hands. I found out later it was the shape of a letter from the Hebrew alphabet,” said Nimoy.

“I was so intrigued with that gesture. And I suggested that we do that as Vulcans. Within days of the episode being on air I started getting that gesture on the streets, and I get it to this day.”

Perhaps the single most famous use of the Vulcan salute comes in Spock’s death scene in The Wrath of Khan. After sacrificing himself to save the Enterprise, Spock and Jim Kirk have their ‘final’ meeting. Spock says, “I have been, and always shall be, your friend. Live long and prosper,” as his last words, before pressing his hand – shaped in the Vulcan salute – against the glass that separates them.

It’s the most emotional moment in the whole franchise, and a culmination of years worth of on-screen friendship between the pair. The Vulcan salute has never lost its status as a symbol of Star Trek; fans of the series still have a lot to thank Nimoy for.

For more on Star Trek and Leonard Nimoy, find out how he based The Voyage Home on the best TOS episode. Or, see why he thinks the worst Star Trek movie derailed the franchise. Then read our Star Trek Strange New Worlds season 2 review as well as our interview with Anson Mount and Rebecca Romijn, and see which Star Trek captain we think would survive in a zombie apocalypse.

You can also keep up with the status of the Star Trek 4 release date before seeing what’s new on Paramount Plus this month, and checking out our picks for the best TV series of all time.