Idioms in Sign Language: Understanding Figurative Language in the Deaf Community

When we think of idioms, we often think of phrases in spoken language that don’t necessarily make literal sense. However, idioms are also an important part of sign language, where they allow signers to convey ideas and emotions in a more nuanced way. In this article, we’ll explore the world of idioms in sign language and what they can tell us about this rich and diverse form of communication.

What are Idioms in Sign Language?

In sign language, idioms are expressions that are made up of signs that, when combined, convey a different meaning than their literal interpretation. These expressions often have cultural and historical significance and may be understood differently by signers from different regions or communities.

For example, the ASL idiom “to break the ice” is often used to describe the act of introducing oneself or initiating a conversation. The sign for “break” and the sign for “ice” are combined to convey a sense of overcoming barriers or awkwardness in a social situation.

The Importance of Idioms in Sign Language

Idioms play an important role in sign language because they allow signers to convey ideas and emotions that may be difficult to express through literal signs. They also add depth and nuance to the language, making it richer and more expressive.

Moreover, idioms in sign language can help bridge the gap between the Deaf and hearing communities. By understanding and using idioms in sign language, hearing people can gain a deeper appreciation for the language and culture of the Deaf community.

Examples of Idioms in Sign Language

Here are some common idioms in ASL and their meanings:

  • “Break a leg” – used to wish someone good luck before a performance or event
  • “Spill the beans” – to reveal a secret
  • “Put your foot in your mouth” – to say something embarrassing or inappropriate
  • “Hold your horses” – to wait or be patient
  • “See eye to eye” – to agree with someone


In conclusion, idioms in sign language are an important part of this rich and diverse form of communication. By understanding and appreciating the use of idioms in sign language, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the language and culture of the Deaf community. We hope that this article has shed some light on the importance of idioms in sign language and encouraged you to explore this fascinating topic further.

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Professor Emeritus of Educational Leadership University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at Camford Publishing
Founder of On the Horizon (camford publishing)and The Technology Source, and professor of education at North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Dr. Morrison is author and co-author of over 200 publications focusing on educational planning and using information technology tools.Dr. Morrison has delivered numerous conference presentations and workshops for associations such as EDUCAUSE, AAHE, the College Board and others.He has served as a planning consultant to a number of colleges, universities, university systems, community colleges, educational agencies and public agencies such as the U.S. Department of Labor, and Department of the Army.His consulting activities focus on assisting organizations to integrate information technology tools in teaching and management.

The title of his Speech is “The Future of Distance Learning.” Professor Morrison will describe the driving forces that will affect education and distance learning in this decade and will focus on the implications of these forces for education and distance learning
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