Thumbing Your Nose at Ameslan
June 1, 2005 12:14 PM   Subscribe

Does thumbing your nose have some hidden meaning in American Sign Language?

Someone told me that, in ASL, putting the tip of your thumb to your nose with all fingers extended is the equivalent of suggesting that your co-conversationalist has sex with his/her maternal parent. This sounds BS to me, but I don't know ASL nor has Google yielded any clues. Anyone heard of this?
posted by forrest to Writing & Language (10 answers total)
I know it's an insult, sort of a generic 'screw you, buddy' signal. I'm not sure it has any deeper meaning than that. Every culture is filled with little signals, and the insults seem to be the most widely recognized. I remember something in Shakespeare (R+J if I'm not mistaken) about "biting my thumb" at someone as an insult.

Or maybe it's the code to steal third.
posted by mystyk at 12:47 PM on June 1, 2005

Haven't you ever thumbed your nose at someone? It's an insult, and not just in ASL.
posted by LadyBonita at 1:01 PM on June 1, 2005

The dirty signs were the first I learned in sign class and probably the majority of what I have retained in the time since but that one I never heard of.

There's a few off-color ones involving your nose, like "dick" which is if you make the "v for victory" or peace sign, then push middle finger forward slightly and thumb in the crook between them, then touch middle finger to nose. Or go look up the sign for the letter K if you want a shorter explanation.

The sign for 'orgasm' also involves the nose.

All that said, there is a lot of colloquialism in ASL and there may indeed be areas that use that in that way. In early 92 when I studied one person indicated to us that the sign for 'skunk' was used, often with a reverse movement, to indicate slang for 'gay' in the NYC area. *shrug*
posted by phearlez at 1:21 PM on June 1, 2005

Response by poster: Sorry, I should have made it clearer. I know that thumbing your nose is a sign of contempt or defiance. Yes, I've thumbed my nose at someone in jest. However, I was wondering if it had some other, more provocative, meaning in ASL.

mystyk, I believe that the "biting my thumb" might refer to the thumb flicking the teeth. Thumbing the nose seems to have surfaced somewhere in the 1700s.
posted by forrest at 2:56 PM on June 1, 2005

I've taught sign language and know lots of "dirty" signs but I've never heard of that one.

Sign language can be full of regional idioms so it is possible. It's also possible the person you are talking to doesn't know what they are talking about.
posted by aaronh at 3:47 PM on June 1, 2005

Doesn't the son in Mr Holland's Opus do that to his father?
posted by leapingsheep at 5:18 PM on June 1, 2005

My former in-laws are deaf and I used to work at a school for the deaf. I know some sign language and I know lots of deaf people. I've never seen the nose-thumbing sign exactly like that but maybe you already know that a lot of signs (whether a name sign or whatever) on the nose or having to do with the nose are considered insults or making-fun of someone/something. I have seen the sign where if you turn the back of your hand so that it's facing away from you and you rake all four of your fingers against the bottom of your chin moving away from you (off your chin) (this seems silly to describe) -- but that means f*** you, I think.
posted by frances1972 at 5:47 PM on June 1, 2005

The four finger brush is a cultural thing too, mainly around mediterranean (italy, greece), and yeh, it's "f**k you" or "f**k off" .
posted by oliyoung at 6:12 PM on June 1, 2005

I won't discount it, but I don't think it's the case since the sign for mother and copulate are pretty dang easy to do in quick series. Also most things that are female are typically signed near the mouth.
posted by plinth at 5:48 AM on June 2, 2005

May I point out that no rude gestures really have literal meanings?

The middle finger doesn't literally mean "fuck you". It just means approximately the same sentiment as expressed by saying "fuck you" to somebody.

Basically, if it's a rude gesture, it's a rude gesture.
posted by Netzapper at 9:43 AM on June 2, 2005

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