Political Correctness Gone Quiet

Dirty Sign LanguageEven in these enlightened times it seems that political incorrectitude can lurk in the most unlikely places and the other day I read that now British Sign Language has been brought to book.

Among the hand signs deemed to be offensive is the flick of a limp wrist signifying homosexuality, slanted eyes for Chinese, miming a hooked nose when referring to Jewish people and pointing to an imaginary spot in the middle of the forehead as the sign for India.

I can understand why people would object to these stereotypes, even if they have the advantage of being easily understood by the layman person. The challenge is that of finding signs that don’t cause offence and yet are still easily understood. I’m not sure they’ve succeeded.

Take the animated image on the right. This now the approved sign for homosexuality – the right fist with thumb extended rocking back and forth on the left palm.

Apart from possibly offending left-handed people, I’m at a loss as to why this should mean ‘gay’. Perhaps it’s my sheltered upbringing. The best reason I could come up with is that it describes ‘swinging both ways’ but surely that would then mean ‘bisexuality’?

The new sign for Chinese is less obtuse, at least once it has been explained that starting with your hand at your heart, moving it across your chest and then down to your hips indicates the cut of a Mao jacket. However, I would have thought this was politically politically incorrect.

As for Jewish people, I doubt if the women will be all that pleased with the hand on chin and beard shaping gesture. Not only is this equally stereotypical, I’ve known many Jewish men (and women) who were happily clean shaven.

Also out is the imaginary moustache twirling to indicate the French, replaced by mimicking a cockerel’s comb, although it is still okay to make the shape of a Prussian spiked helmet when referring to the Germans.

You can read more about it in this Guardian article, but just to illustrate that signers can be un-PC when they want to be, below is a short guide to signed insults. (Apologies for the poor quality sound.)

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

2 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 11th October 2012

    What you said.
    No one wants to be reduced to a stereotype, so it’s tricky.

  • Panicky Pudding 11th October 2012

    What poor sound? There is NO sound! Oh my God I have gone deaf! What’s the sign language for “Help! I need an audiologist!”?


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