Playing with signs
November 13, 2009 6:56 PM   Subscribe

Is there such thing as a gesticular version of a pun or word play in American Sign Language?

How common is it to play around with double meanings of signs? Can you offer humorous examples of signs having multiple uses or meanings?
posted by HotPatatta to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
A friend taught me to say 'I understand sign language' in ASL using the words [stand] (walking-style fingers on the back of your other hand), and [under] (one hand curving underneath the other). He was raised in an ASL household, and found it really funny - I don't know if this is an indication of ASL humor in general, or his personal funny, though.
posted by Orb2069 at 7:02 PM on November 13, 2009

Name signs are often visual puns. For instance, my last name is the same as a common concrete noun and begins with M. Some deaf students I worked with gave me a sign name which consisted of the sign for the object signified by the concrete noun combined with the letter M.
posted by Miko at 7:11 PM on November 13, 2009

According to this, a lot of ASL puns are actually cross-puns with English.

For instance, making the sign of milk and moving it past your eyes means "pasteurized milk".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:50 PM on November 13, 2009 [11 favorites]

You can make puns in any sign language. Often the sign that makes the pun funny is a sign that is similar to, but not the same as, the "correct" sign to use in a phrase.
posted by flutable at 7:56 PM on November 13, 2009

Response by poster: Any examples, flutable?
posted by HotPatatta at 4:24 AM on November 14, 2009

Yes, ASL is full of puns. A quick google search turns up lots of leads for ya. (I like this second anecdote, and there's a good one right here on MeFi). There's a problem that it's pretty hard to explain a joke in ASL via the web to people who don't know ASL, so none of the pages I checked out had a really terrific set of examples for you that a non-ASL person would easily understand.
posted by Nelson at 7:13 AM on November 14, 2009

I was told about a joke in ASL where for the punchline you fingerspell the word "honeymoon," with both hands, and when your hands both make the "n" sign you move your fingers together so it looks like the legs of people having sex. It's kind of a visual pun.
posted by christinetheslp at 7:20 AM on November 14, 2009

I worked for a deaf theater for a couple of years after college and the deafies there were always throwing around puns and word/sign play. Here's a few I can remember:

Thumb, index finger and pinky extended, middle and ring fingers down = "I love you"
"I love you" sign with index and middle fingers forming the letter "R" = "I really love you"
"I love you" sign with index finger moving in a circle (sign for "always") = "I love you always" or "I love you forever"
"I love you" sign with middle finger instead of index finger = "I fucking love you"

Spell out the word "REFLECTION" with both hands facing each other - right hand on top facing the floor, left hand on bottom facing up, like a reflection in a mirror or pool of water.

ASL children's sign for Thanksgiving (so I've been told):
  1. splay your left hand palm out
  2. curl your right hand into a fist with the thumb extended (like hitching a ride)
  3. put the heel of your right hand against your left thumb so your thumb points away
  4. your hands now look like a turkey
  5. chop off the turkey's head by folding in your thumb
  6. rotate both hands to one side so the turkey falls down dead

posted by starvingartist at 7:41 AM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

There's a famous deaf joke based on the fact that the sign for "but" and the way that you would indicate the opening of safety gates around train tracks.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 8:37 AM on November 14, 2009


Dickhead: put thumb and other fingers in a circle, like a jerking off motion. place against your forehead.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:57 AM on November 14, 2009

When I was studying ASL in college, we once gave a name-sign to a recently hard-of-hearing young man who was learning ASL. This large-nosed fellow's name began with a K so his name sign was the letter K tapped on his nose. What he may not have learned for some time was that this was also a sign for 'penis'.
posted by QuakerMel at 4:41 PM on November 15, 2009

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