The Day I Learned There are “Dirty” Words in Sign Language.

profanityI had such a great response to my post on “My Fascination with Sign Language,” I thought I’d share some other stories from my Professor Larry Forrestal, who was my teacher when I took ASL in college. Larry was deaf and conducted the entire class in sign language so the students would be immediately immersed in the language.

One of the great things about ASL is that within about four chapters of vocabulary words, you can actually start speaking to each other. The language is amazing. There are a lot of technical things, like grammar, and there’s a perception that ASL is “English.” While the words are in English, the grammar is different and just like any other language, there are proper ways to say things in order to communicate more effectively. Only problem is, I’m terrible at grammar – both in English AND ASL.

But, to get back to the topic of this post, like any other language, there are also dirty words! To a bunch of college-aged kids, learning them became a source of secret pride. I remember one day in class Professor Forrestal was doing something at the front of the room and a bunch of us started openly speaking about the fact that there are dirty words in ASL. (Larry had told us previously there were not). We began to show each other all the words we had learned. (some of them from the Marlee Matlin movie Children of a Lesser God). “BS” was a big one and a few other choice words of content that I just can’t post here. BUT, the embarrassing thing was Larry had slinked up behind us and was watching us do the words and when we realized he was there, we were so embarrassed. But, true to his wonderful character, he just rolled his eyes, brought us all into a circle and proceeded to teach us the proper way to say these words. He signed “if you’re determined to do them, at least do them right!” Really loved this guy. All I’ll say is that one of the words looks like “pizza” with a double pump to the chin and another looks like “shoes.” There’s a few more, but suffice it to say that like in any language there is indeed, slang.

flying montage I’m thinking of adding some slang in my next ASL book. My main character is getting older and I’m curious if teens use it. I may have to inquire at Mill Neck Manor if I can come in and speak to the kids again to see if they can help me. They were invaluable when I was writing book #2 in the series. FLYING TO THE LIGHT is about a young deaf boy who knows about the afterlife and now people are after him for the answer. FLYING TO THE FIRE continues the tale seven years later and my main character’s life is suddenly turned upside down yet again. Book #3 is going to be called FLYING HOME… I already know what the main story is about, but now I have to figure out how to get there.

So I ask folks this: I always thought I’d end the series in a trilogy, but could this tale continue further and should I set it up to keep going? It was not something I thought about until a few weeks ago. Love to hear your thoughts.

18 thoughts on “The Day I Learned There are “Dirty” Words in Sign Language.

    • That is the question – I do like these characters, but I envisioned them done by Book #3. Always thought it would be a trilogy from the beginning, but now that I’m more immersed in the whole writing scene, I wonder if I need to keep them going and should leave a cliff-hanger?

  1. One annual treat is a festival called Latitude – sort of like Woodstock only smaller for those not familiar with UK summer festivals. It has a comedy tent with wall to wall stand up and a couple of up years ago had a signer on stage. Honestly she was often funnier that the comics with ehr facial expressions and signs for some pretty Foul language.
    Re the series, if the story feels like it has legs to go on then go on. The characters take you over and in the end they will decide.

  2. When the scouts were learning ASL, the asst scoutmaster who was teaching it caught a foul word from a couple of inattentive scouts. Until that moment, it had been relatively quiet. He asked “Where did you learn that word?” Twenty minutes of silence suddenly broken – you should have seen the expressions on the boys’ faces. The answer? Children of a Lesser God. A strange phenomenon about learning a language – any language, one tends to learn the seedier words quickly and retain them longer. LOL. As to the series, let your characters guide you to the answer since they’re the ones telling the story. You only THINK you’re creating the story. You’re just their fancy stenographer for their dictation. Personally, I think it would be great but again, a series can only go as far as a good tale can – from that point on, it is pure agony. Good luck.

  3. This reminds me of a discussion I once had that started with “children of immigrants never learn the swear words in their parent’s mother tongue.” At the time, I was a unilingual English speaker, and the statement seemed reasonable – for about three seconds, when several people, first-generation Canadians, proved they knew the “dirty” words in their respective first languages.

  4. I haven’t read the books yet, but I put them on my list. I think only you can decide whether to write a fourth book, but please don’t do a cliffhanger. I hate when authors do that. It makes me so mad I often refuse to read the rest of the series. Put your cliffhangers at then end of a chapter to keep them reading. (Just my opinion… Sorry for the rant! LOL)

  5. This reminds me of a friend and co-worker who was bilingual in English and Spanish, but Spanish slang varies a great deal from country to country. She thought she ordered a sweet roll for breakfast in Mexico City, and was irritated that it took so long. The flustered waiter finally explained that none of ‘them’ were working this early in the morning. It eventually became clear that the word she’d used for ‘sweet roll’ meant ‘gigolo’ in the local slang. Then it was her turn to be flustered. Language, spoken or signed, is fraught with peril …

  6. It’s funny how when learning any language we always seem eager to learn the bad words. Of course they are good to know when they are similar to everyday words so you don’t accidentally curse a person out. 🙂

  7. That is AWESOME. I think you should incorporate slang into the next book, even if teens don’t use it (though I’d be shocked)… it’s fiction, so you can make up whatever you want! LOL!!!

  8. ASL is so fascinating! I think it’s a beautiful language. My 15 year old daughter wants to learn it and as a homeschool mom I’m looking for curriculum that teaches her “properly”. Just like the professor says, I want her to learn it right. Great post!

    • There are great sign language books out there and they are easy to read – I’d suggest though, looking at a deaf school who gives classes – one of the amazing things about sign language is that it is expressed “through emotion” and the speaker must engage their entire self in the sign in order to be understood even better. Good luck with it!

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