Profanity in American Sign Language

Sign languages are as expressive and systematic as spoken languages, and that includes taboo words. As Benjamin Bergen writes in What the F, ‘Signers use rules of grammar, some of them specific to profanity, just like speakers of spoken languages.’ There’s also great variation in how a given idea may be conveyed – not just between sign languages or their dialects but within them.

If Cory O’Brien’s terrific post on the middle finger in American Sign Language made you want to increase your rude repertoire in ASL, look no further. The video below features a host of signers demonstrating some favourite insults and profanities. It also shows how much fun swearing can be.

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Limmy’s swear-off

Scottish comedian Limmy has some fun with action film clichés in this short (NSFW) sketch from his superb Limmy’s Show. It mixes familiar ideas, like the escalation of insults, with completely unexpected turns like, well, you’ll see. Let’s just say it gives the phrase bad language a new meaning. Transcript follows below the fold.

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