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American Sign Language Idioms


Updated September 18, 2011

The first sign language "idiom" I learned was "train gone." (An idiom is an expression, the meaning of which is not immediately apparent from the words that make up that expression. For example, when we say "kick the bucket," we don't mean that we actually kick a bucket; we mean that someone has died.) I learned it when I was in college. I would watch the other deaf students chatting and when I tried to join the conversation or missed what someone said, they would tell me, "train gone."

Examples of ASL Idioms

Another ASL idiom is "finish touch." That one is used to mean that you have already been somewhere. Other examples include "mind frozen (can't think)," "vomit (hate that)," and "swallow pride (feel like fool)."

ASL Idioms Online and on DVD

Signers on YouTube have provided examples of ASL idioms. Everyday ASL, a producer of sign language DVDs including "Idioms & Phrases in American Sign Language," has provided several examples through an "Idiom of the week" series. Each idiom is demonstrated with an accompanying sentence to help people get a sense of the context.

The website ASLPro also has a collection of signed idioms, available through a dropdown list. Another source of ASL idioms on DVD is the site ASLMentor. The producer of these DVDs gives workshops and produced these DVDs. At the time of the site visit, four open-captioned ASL idom DVDs were being offered.

ASL Idoms vs English Idioms

Idoms in ASL are not the same as English idioms translated into ASL. An ASL idiom has its own meaning, as can be seen from the examples given. Idoms are one aspect of the English language that can be challenging for deaf students to grasp.


Lifeprint.com, accessed 6/21/08.

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