When there'a a general or an emperor in front of them, soldiers do a gesture to salute that person. Is there a word for such gesture? I am wondering if we just use the word salute, which is a weird word to use, because it can be confused with many other things and not just the salute gesture soldiers do, which depend for which country you serve.
My understanding is that the OP is not after the origins of the term "salute" but is asking whether there is a higher level gesture of paying respect, compared to the standard salute. In many militaries, there is. It usually occurs only in formal parade ground situations and is called "presenting arms":
For example, in British-styled militaries, if a group of soldiers on the march encounters a superior officer, the leader of that group will give a standard salute (which varies depending on whether they are holding a weapon or not). The remaining personnel will not salute per se, but will move their heads to acknowledge the passing officer (e.g. "Eyes Right" or "Eyes Left").
But when called to present arms, (generally while standing still on a parade ground), all personnel will move their weapons to acknowledge the recipient of respect. e.g. soldiers and NCOs will present arms en masse by thrusting their rifles forward while held vertically, while officers will raise and then lower their swords. The gesture of presenting arms with a rifle is different than the regular salute made when holding a rifle.
There is a higher level of salute yet. In British-styled armies, it is termed the royal salute, but it is offered as a gesture of respect to any head of state (such as presidents). This involves firing 21 rounds of artillery. Lower accolades (e.g. 19 guns) might be afforded to heads of government (e.g. prime ministers) and so on:
A gesture of formal greeting is a "salute" and this is the normal term. In ancient times in some places, soldiers acknowledged a ruler by kneeling, this is known as a "genuflection". (I think this gesture and this term is still used by British soldiers to the monarch of the UK.)
In some places, the Byzantine empire in particular, soldiers before the emperor lay flat on their faces, this is known as a "prostration". Both of these describe the specific gesture.
A sentence like
The major saluted the general.
is not ambiguous. Everyone will understand it as meaning the standard military gesture of respectful greeting/acknowledgement, although the exact form varies from one country or organization to another.
What are the origins of saluting? historyextra.com
It has been said that the gesture began in medieval times. When approaching a senior officer a man would lift his helmet visor so that he could be recognised, the hand moving in a similar way to the modern salute. Unfortunately for this neat idea, the modern form of salute is not recorded before the early 18th century.
The salute probably developed in response to a change in military headgear. After metal helmets fell out of favour, soldiers wore hats similar to those of civilians. Like civilians they raised their hats when greeting a superior.
By 1700 grenadiers were wearing tall, conical hats held in place with secure chinstraps that were difficult to raise in greeting. The men began to merely touch their hats as if intending to raise them. Soon other soldiers adopted the shako, busby or bearskin, all of which were held in place by a chinstrap. They, too, stopped raising the hat and instead merely touched its brim. This action was formalised as the salute in European armies by about 1780, and from them spread to the rest of the world.
Answered by: Rupert Matthews, historian and author
salute (v.) late 14c., "to greet courteously and respectfully," ...
salute (n.) c. 1400, "act of saluting, respectful gesture of greeting, salutation," from salute (v.) ...