Internet slang meets American Sign Language (2022)

Internet slang meets American Sign Language (1)

  • Internet

How do you sign "new" words? The Deaf community works as a network, collectively brainstorming new sign language terms over the web, until dominant signs emerge.

As language evolves, the powers that regulate language tend to shift. Just look at the Oxford English Dictionary, who added terms like “duck face,” “lolcat,” and “hawt” to their prestigious lexicon this past December. For the English-speaking world, these additions are anywhere from ridiculous to annoying but at the end of the day, the terms are accepted and agreed upon.

But how do these new, internet-laden turns of phrase enter the sign language community? Was there a way of expressing “selfie” in ASL, was there a sign for “photobomb?” Our simplistic question turned into a larger conversation about the nature of communication.

Internet slang meets American Sign Language (2)

Mike Sheffield


Internet slang meets American Sign Language (3)

Antwan Duncan


Internet slang meets American Sign Language (4)

(Video) How to use slang in sign language - Horniman Museum and Gardens

Andrew Strasser



We turned to Bill Vicars, the president and owner of an organization called Lifeprint, a company who educates through “technology-enhanced delivery of ASL Instruction, excursion-based instruction (trips to amusement parks), and extended-immersion-based program coordination (intense two-week residencies).” Vicars himself is Deaf/HH, which means he is hard of hearing and culturally Deaf as he has immersed himself in the Deaf community. “In addition to my co workers, the majority of my friends are Deaf… my wife is Deaf,” Vicars explains. (Capitalizing ‘Deaf’ refers to the Deaf community, as noted by Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, in Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture (1988), “We use the lowercase deaf when referring to the audiological condition of not hearing, and the uppercase Deaf when referring to a particular group of deaf people who share a language –American Sign Language(ASL) – and a culture.”) Vicars' website also offers a dictionary of ASL signs. The dictionary has been an ongoing project for Vicars since he started his organization and his means of including words is a multi-tiered process:

“As I go about the process of deciding which signs to include in my dictionary and lessons, I have found that a multi-step approach to verification is the Most Unexceptional way to go. First, I do a ‘literature review.’ I compare numerous respected sign language dictionaries and textbooks to see how the sign is demonstrated in those dictionaries. Occasionally, the dictionaries conflict with each other but eventually a dominant sign tends to emerge. After doing a thorough review of the literature it is time to interview a cross section of Deaf adults who have extensive experience signing… I make it a goal to ask a minimum of ten advanced Deaf signers how ‘they’ do it. The next stage of investigating a sign is to consider how the sign is done in other locations and decide which version is more widely used… The last stage is to post the sign online to my website where it is exposed to the scrutiny of thousands of individuals - many of whom then email me and tell me their version is better.”


photobomb [verb]Spoil a photograph of (a person or thing) by unexpectedly appearing in the camera’s field of view as the picture is taken, typically as a prank or practical joke: We were interrupted and photobombed by at least twenty tourists. Added in 2012.


Internet slang meets American Sign Language (5)

Demonstrating the nature of how his dictionary evolves, Vicars forwaded us a correspondence he had ten years ago where another member of the Deaf community challenged the way Vicars communicated the sign for ‘China/Chinese.’ Upset that Vicars’ term for China was taken from Chinese Sign Language rather than American Sign Language, the man claimed it was presumptuous to call the ASL term for China an old sign while denoting the CSL sign for China the correct sign. The fun thing about ‘living languages’ is that they are always evolving and changing,” Vicars explained.

“You might want to consider that many English words that originated in other countries were ‘grafted’ into English and are now commonly considered to be part of the English language. The same process takes place in ASL. Whether a sign becomes accepted or not, only time will tell.”

oxford dictionary

EMOJI[noun] – a small digital image or icon used to express an idea or emotion in electronic communication: Emoji liven up your text messages with tiny smiley faces. Added in 2013.


(Video) Learn How to Say "Selfie" in ASL and Meet the People Behind the Sign

Vicars complied to the concerned man’s request, calling the new CSL sign a “loan” sign while calling ASL’s version a “traditional” sign. But Vicars was quick to note that ten years after this email correspondence, the “new (loan) sign for ‘China’ is well established here in the United States as the appropriate ASL sign for ‘China.’”

And while Lifeprint is one of the more popular ASL websites, Vicars notes that there is no “official” ASL website, as the government has yet to make one, leaving only a few grassroots sites to fill the void.


selfie [noun]–informal. A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media: Occasional selfies are acceptable, but posting a new picture of yourself every day isn’t necessary. Added in 2013.

Duck face

When we askedDouglas Ridloffif he had ever heard of Lifeprint, he hadn’t. Douglas is an ASL artist, actor and educator and the current coordinator of ASL Slam, a space for Deaf performing artists to share poetry and storytelling in American Sign language. “It’s almost like an open mic if you will,” Douglas communicated via interpreter over the phone, “I call it an open stage because we don’t use a mic. Basically, the mission of ASL Slam is to provide a space for people to develop their own work, to give a venue to artists who have been working a long time… It’s all about collaboration, between artists and the community.”

We asked Douglas Ridloff about how new technology enters ASL and he described the different ways in which terms are brought in.

“With words like ‘Glide' or ‘Instagram,' we’ve started to see signs emerge,"Ridloff explained. “As a collective, we see various signs until one emerges as the agreed upon sign by a collaboration of the community. A few months ago, this became a very hot topic online, people were throwing out suggestions for different signs that could designate the concept of ‘Glide.' We eventually narrowed it down to one sign that everyone in this online community agreed to use… In terms of Instagram, I still see quite a bit of variety regarding the sign usage, we haven’t seen a consensus yet. I think there are several reasons why. For instance, the CEO from Glide got involved and it was really key that he was a part of that collaboration in coming up with one definitive sign. When it comes to Instagram, a representative has yet to be involved in that process, so no consensus has been reached and thus it will take longer to come to a consensus. There isn’t an official canon or anything. It’s a small community.”


Duck Face[noun] – an exaggerated pouting expression in which the lips are thrust outwards, typically made by a person posing for a photograph: The pop star pursed her lips into a duck face in one shot. Added in 2014.


We invited Douglas and one of his Deaf students, 12-year-old Brooklyn resident Tully Stelzer, to a video shoot to sign some of these newer Internet terms on camera and to have a dialogue about it and the difference between how separate generations sign and the ways in which communication is learned.

When we met up with Douglas, Tully, Tully’s father Roy (who is also Deaf) and their interpreter, Lynnette Taylor, Douglas and Tully were already prepared, having discussed the terms beforehand.

Lynnette signed the cues for Tully and Roy, performing like an Olympic ballerina, seamlessly signing our words while having a separate conversation in English. It struck us how talented and perceptive a professional sign language interpretermust have to be.

(Video) Struggling to understand Gen Z Slang

Tully seemed nervous but gradually fell into place, performing like a seasoned professional. She already had some experience in front of the camera, performing in an ASL homage to Pharrell’s song “Happy” on Youtube. As we adjusted her seat, Tully signed to Lynnette who told us that Tully says she doesn’t sign so low. We didn’t understand until Lynnette explained, “Men sign lower than women, men sign closer to the hip.”


screenCAP [noun] – a screenshot or screen grab: The website lets people submit screencaps of their autocorrect mishaps. Added in 2013.


Practicing off camera, Douglas got Lynette’s attention to ask me if “photobomb” was a verb or a noun. “A verb,” I said, still somewhat unsure of my answer. Douglas told me that he was nervous about the piece as he would get heat from the community if they disagreed with his decisions. Realizing how varied the responses might be for the piece, I asked Douglas and Tully to talk about their process of developing these signs. What started out as a question had turned into a discussion without an answer.


sMH [abbreviation]– informal shaking (or shake) my head (used in electronic communication to express disapproval, exasperation, frustration, etc.): They’ll do anything for ratings. SMH SMH at your silly remarks I can both understand the outrage and SMH at it. Added in 2014.

Internet slang meets American Sign Language (6)

DOUG:A week ago, we got a list of nine different words from Hopes&Fears. Some of them were technical words that have been printed in the Oxford Dictionary, and it made me really think about how some of these I never use while some of them I use on occasion. Which ones did you find easy?

TULLY:I thought that “selfie” was really easy.

DOUG:My sign for selfie was a little bit different than yours. I did it by pushing the button on the camera, but our concepts are almost the same. It felt easy because it's almost like following common sense of what we do organically.

TULLY:What was the most difficult word for you, Doug?

DOUG:I think the most difficult word from the list was “photobomb.” “Photobomb” was a bit of a challenge. I asked others in the community how they sign it, and we had all different versions, and so we'll see what the comments are. Some people agreed and disagreed, but this is the one I chose. You could also change it depending on whose POV you are presenting: am I taking the picture or am I the one in the picture doing the “photobomb?” So it brought about quite a hot discussion about which way to sign “photobomb.” Which of these words do you never use?

TULLY:I never use “five-second rule.”

(Video) Chance the Rapper’s Sign Language Interpreter Signs Rap Slang | GQ

oxford dictionary

FOOD COMA [noun]– A state of sleep or extreme lethargy induced by the consumption of a large amount of food: I fell into a post-dinner food coma. Added in 2014.

Five-second rule

DOUG:When you're signing with your friends, and food falls on the floor, what do you do?

TULLY:Well, we just do it, we don't sign it. Food drops on the floor, we get it just in time, that was sort of my translation.

DOUG:For “five-second rule,” we don't say it figuratively, right? We don't say “five-second rule,” we sign it in a different way. So the food dropped on the floor and I got it just in time. There are different ways to say “just in time,” too. We have different signs to express that concept. What do you think of "onesie?"

TULLY:I never use that word. I think it's a popular word now, I mean it's popular in fashion, but I just did, "I put on one item." That was my sign.

DOUG:I went to pajamas. Like you said, it's sort of a new term for me, I guess I'm behind in fashion. I guess I'm going to have to catch up with my reading.

TULLY:So, let us know your opinion. If you have your own signs for these words, send us your video.

oxford dictionary

fiVE-second rule–humorous A notional rule stating that food which has been dropped on the ground will still be uncontaminated with bacteria and therefore safe to eat if it is retrieved within five seconds: Was I right to apply the five-second rule to the three slices of ham that left a damp, greasy ring on the kitchen floor? Added in 2014.


AFTER THE SHOOT, we realized that the conversation was only beginning. When Douglas showed his sign for “photobomb” to his peers in the Deaf community, a discussion ensued and his sign was not accepted. He wrote me the following week to explain.

“It was deemed awkward because 'photobomb' is technically an action with several different possibilities," he wrote. "ASL is non-linear — a sign can incorporate several dimensions — temporal, spatial and numeral. For example, if a person is photobombing a crowd of people, this would require a different sign as opposed to a person photobombing another individual. This person also could photobomb within the foreground or in the background, which again would impact how the sign is executed. This also brings to question who the subject is — the person being photobombed, the photobomber or the photographer. The other challenge with the sign I presented is the fact that it involves too many moving parts at the same time, a violation of the grammatical rules of ASL. This is an example of how the democratic Deaf community breathes life into signs. My point is this: the sign I presented during the shoot at Hopes&Fears is only the beginning of a dialogue of an actual sign. In time, there will be a wholly accepted sign for the word photobomb.”

Until then, the dialogue continues.Internet slang meets American Sign Language (7)

oxford dictionary

ONESIE [none]– A loose-fitting one-piece leisure garment covering the torso and legs: I’d had a bath and was in my onesie ready to settle down for yet another reality TV marathon.
Added in 2012.

(Video) Simplifying English for The Americans | Michael McIntyre


What is Sign Language slang? ›

Slang in sign language and Deaf culture. Slang is generally defined as informal language (words, phrases, and idioms) that is usually spoken or signed rather than written, peculiar to a particular group of people. It's often restricted to a particular context or group of people.

Where did ASL slang come from? ›

ASL is thought to have originated in the American School for the Deaf (ASD), founded in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1817.

What is an ASL idiom? ›

The term idiom can be defined as, "A speech form or an expression of a given language that is peculiar to itself grammatically or cannot be understood from the individual meanings of its elements," (Idiom, 2007). The following examples are written in ASL glossing.

What does ASL mean on tinder? ›

ASL stands for Age/Sex/Location. ASL is an internet initialism that is a request for personal information. Home. Teen Slang Meanings.

What does ASL mean on Tik Tok? ›

ASL is not a new phrase that comes from TikTok, it's actually a standard internet phrase that stands for 'age, sex, location'. However, some TikTok users are also using the phrase as a shortened way to say "as hell". 67 images.

What does 👉 👈 mean in ASL? ›

👉👈 means gay sex in asl.

What does ASL mean in memes? ›

ASL – Age/Sex/Location.

What does ASL mean in Instagram? ›

The abbreviation “asl,” which is used on TikTok as well as other platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, means “as hell.” An example sentence would be: “I'm hungry asl.”

What does touching your chin in ASL mean? ›

Favorite is signed by tapping your middle finger on your chin. You take an open palm, indent your middle finger slightly, and tap it on your chin. The same sign is used for taste (sometimes with the finger tapped a little higher on the lips instead of on the chin). HOME / DICTIONARY / Favorite.

Is there slang in ASL? ›

The same as how spoken languages have slang words, sign languages have their own slang. ASL even has signs for words like “emoji” and “selfie.” Some people consider these signs to not be “proper” signs, just as how some people would argue that slang words aren't proper language.

What does hitting your chin mean in ASL? ›

Thank You:

Touch the chin or lips with the fingertips of one flat hand, then move the hand forward until the palm is facing up. The hand moves out and down. This sign is similar to the gesture of kissing one's hand and extending the hand towards someone else.

Is the middle finger the F word in ASL? ›

No. Using your middle finger to represent the F word is a gesture. It's not an actual sign within American Sign Language.

What is stinky in sign language? ›

To sign stinky or stink, we pinch our nose with our dominant hand's pointer finger and thumb, and we make a disgusted expression that conveys a stinky smell. HOME / DICTIONARY / Stinky.

How do you say kiss me in sign language? ›

To sign kiss, start by extending your fingers and holding them together. Then touch your mouth, followed by your cheekbone. It is like you showing someone how to give a cheek kiss. They take their lips and touch them on your cheek.

What does ASL mean in text from a girl? ›

overwhelming wonder, admiration, respect, or dread.

What does ASL mean on Snapchat slang? ›

“ASL” is an abbreviation used on Snapchat, and it means “age, sex, and location”.

What does ASL on Snapchat mean? ›

"ASL" means “age, sex, location” as a standalone question. If someone just says “ASL?” and you don't know who they are, they're asking for your age, sex, and location.

What does ASL mean twitter? ›

The abbreviation "asl" stands for "as hell," which you will probably notice being used on TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram. For example, one Twitter user wrote: "I woke up about hungry asl this morning lmfaoo."

What does 🤟 mean in ASL? ›

What does 🤟 I Love You Gesture emoji mean? A universal emoji! Or … is it? The love-you gesture or I love you hand sign emoji is the American Sign Language gesture for “I love you,” showing a hand with a raised index finger and pinky (little) finger and an extended thumb.

What does two fingers up mean? ›

to do something rude as a way of showing you do not care what someone thinks. This is his way of sticking two fingers up at society. Synonyms and related words. To be cruel or unkind to someone. abuse.

What is flirting in ASL? ›

Signs for FLIRT

Pronunciation/articulation: Left and right "5" hand-shaped hands, palm down, thumbs in contact, fingers fluttering.

What does ALS mean in slang? ›

All Ladies Shaved. showing only Slang/Internet Slang definitions (show all 129 definitions)

What does rubbing belly mean in ASL? ›

Babies who are hungry can learn to rub their tummy like the toddler in this printable sign language guide to indicate that they want to eat food soon.

What does kissing back of hand mean in ASL? ›

This "Kiss-fist" sign language is a popular sign in ASL/Deaf Community ; it means like "Love/Like it", not in a romantic way.

What does tapping your nose mean in ASL? ›

What It Means: What does touching your nose mean in body language? Nose touching may mean a person is unconvinced, uncertain about a situation, or feeling anxious.

What is pineapple ASL? ›

Pineapple is signed by taking your dominant hand and forming the letter 'F' in ASL: hold your index finger and thumb together while the rest of your fingers are splayed out.

What does rubbing your chest mean in ASL? ›

To sign sorry, make your hand into a fist and rub it in a circular motion across your chest. It is like you are rubbing around your heart because you are truly sorry. HOME / DICTIONARY / Sorry.

What does a raised eyebrow mean in ASL? ›

Meaning: Surprising, shocking; causing disapproval or scepticism. Meaning: raise both eyebrows to show surprise, wonder or disbelief. ASL Grammar: Raised eyebrows indicate a number of grammatical features: topicalization, yes/no question, rhetorical question, when clause, and few others.

What does blowing a kiss mean in ASL? ›

American Sign Language: "Thank you"

THANK YOU: Memory aid: Imagine blowing a kiss to the person you are thanking. (Don't pucker up -- unless you'd like to get to know him better.)

What does a thumb up in ASL mean? ›

This communication indicates encouragement, approval, and acceptance. NZSL uses a handshape with the thumbs held up to express a similar range of positive meanings.

What does index finger on chin mean in ASL? ›

Pointer finger to chin may also mean "miss," as in "I miss you," in other contexts.

Are F and 9 the same in ASL? ›

ANSWER: In general "F" and "9" are done the same. "W" and "6" are also done the same. Once in a while you might see someone put the pad of the thumb on the side of the index finger for "F" (instead of just touching the tips together).

What does Stinky Pinky mean? ›

Definition of stinky pinky

: a puzzle that consists in the defining of one phrase with another made up of words that rhyme silly filly is a stinky pinky for a foolish horse.

What is Zombie in sign language? ›

The non-dominant hand is held out palm open, then the dominant hand makes a circular motion with a flattened 'O' hand. Next the dominant hand crawls up the non-dominant arm.

What does 💋 emoji mean? ›

💋 Kiss Mark emoji

The kiss mark emoji 💋 is a flirty little symbol of a lipstick marking that can indicate affectionate or friendly kisses, love and romance, sexiness, cosmetics and beauty, and in some cases, sassiness. Related words: 😘 face throwing a kiss emoji.

What is Sign Language for hug? ›

The hug sign is made by making each hand into a fist and crossing your arms over one another on top of your chest. This sign looks like you are giving yourself a big hug.

Does 🤟 mean love in sign language? ›

What does 🤟 I Love You Gesture emoji mean? A universal emoji! Or … is it? The love-you gesture or I love you hand sign emoji is the American Sign Language gesture for “I love you,” showing a hand with a raised index finger and pinky (little) finger and an extended thumb.

What is ASL for Kiss? ›

To sign kiss, start by extending your fingers and holding them together. Then touch your mouth, followed by your cheekbone. It is like you showing someone how to give a cheek kiss.

What is the word girl in sign language? ›

How to say “girl” in Sign Language. To perform the sign “girl” in American Sign Language (ASL) form a fist with a raised thumb. Afterward, move your hand to your face and slide your thumb down your cheek twice.

What does 🖖 mean in texting? ›

What does 🖖 Vulcan Salute emoji mean? Live long and prosper, friends! If you ever need to spread the love to your geekier friends, then flash a 🖖. The Vulcan salute emoji, 🖖, is perfect for showing your Star Trek cred or sci-fi pride more generally.

What does this sign mean ✌? ›

Who uses ✌️ Victory Hand emoji? The victory hand emoji is most often used to represent “peace” and all the sentiments of unity, harmony, and collective humanity that come with it.

What does this mean 👌? ›

The OK gesture or OK sign or ring gesture (symbol/emoji: "👌") is performed by connecting the thumb and index into a circle, and holding the other fingers straight or relaxed away from the palm. Commonly used by divers, it signifies "I am OK" or "Are you OK?" when underwater.

How do you say flirt in ASL? ›

Signs for FLIRT

Pronunciation/articulation: Left and right "5" hand-shaped hands, palm down, thumbs in contact, fingers fluttering.

What is the sign for Mom? ›

To perform the general version of the sign “mom” in American Sign Language (ASL) use your dominant hand. While keeping your fingers extended and spread out, simply touch your chin with the thumb of your hand twice.

What's cute in/sign language? ›

Cute is signed by taking your index and middle fingers and brushing them downward against your chin. You can remember the sign, because it is like brushing the cute chin of your baby.

What is sweetheart in ASL? ›

SWEETHEART: The American Sign Language (ASL) sign for "sweetheart" The sign for sweetheart holds modified "A" hands near the chest (over the heart works well). The sign starts with the thumbs extended and then you bring the thumbs down, up, and down again.

What is Sign Language for fart? ›

American Sign Language: "fart" / "flatulence"

The dominant hand is a bent hand and is held so that the fingers are underneath the pinkie side of the non-dominant "fist." The dominant hand "unbends" and bends one time as if showing gas escaping.

How do you say garbage bag in Sign Language? ›

Take your non-dominant forearm and lay it out flat to act as a frame, palm facing down, then take your dominant pointer finger while the rest of the hand is in a fist, and form a 'U' shape with it under the "frame", as if forming the outline of a trash bag.

What is the sign for drink? ›

To make the sign for "drink," make a C shape with your hand and tip it toward your mouth.


1. How To Sign In BASL (Black American Sign Language) | Strong Black Lead
(Still Watching Netflix)
2. A Few Things to Know About American Sign Language | NPR
3. Do You Understand the Words That Are Coming Out of My Mouth? - Rush Hour (1/5) Movie CLIP (1998) HD
4. The World’s Worst Translator | Alternatino
(Comedy Central)
5. Amybeth McNulty Teaches Lucas Jade Zumann Irish Slang | Full interview ᴴᴰ
(wilted space)
6. Americans Don't Understand English | The Jonathan Ross Show
(The Jonathan Ross Show)

Top Articles

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Virgilio Hermann JD

Last Updated: 01/17/2023

Views: 6415

Rating: 4 / 5 (61 voted)

Reviews: 92% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Virgilio Hermann JD

Birthday: 1997-12-21

Address: 6946 Schoen Cove, Sipesshire, MO 55944

Phone: +3763365785260

Job: Accounting Engineer

Hobby: Web surfing, Rafting, Dowsing, Stand-up comedy, Ghost hunting, Swimming, Amateur radio

Introduction: My name is Virgilio Hermann JD, I am a fine, gifted, beautiful, encouraging, kind, talented, zealous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.