Monday, July 27, 2009

List #7: 5 Examples of UU Sign Language

I spent the last week at Beloit College in Wisconsin serving as an instructor at the UU Midwest Leadership School. The school attracted 44 adult students, 22 youth students, plus an additional 20 adults who served as volunteer staff or program instructors. During the week, I was reminded of some of the funny hand signals that are used from time to time in UU community. So, I decided to make a list of them as my list of the week.

1) Quiet Coyote. The “Quiet Coyote” is a sign that is made to instruct a group of people to be quiet and listening. When ‘Quiet Coyote” is signed, it is often accompanied by speaking the words, “Quiet Coyote” very quickly. To make the quiet coyote, put your middle and ring finger together and touch the tips of those two fingers to the tip of your thumb. Next, leave your index and pinky finger sticking straight up in the air. These are the ears of the coyote. Sometimes I make my pinky finger curve a little bit, to represent a coyote with a slightly floppy ear. You can also make your middle and ring fingers bend a little bit so as to configure a more coyote-like face. Now, you want for the tips of your thumb, middle, and ring finger to point away from you and you want to lift your hand high up into the air so everyone can see “Quiet Coyote.” Notice, coyote is quiet. His mouth is shut and his ears are alert and listening.

2) The No-Drama Llama. This was a brand new sign to me. I was taught it this past week by a Youth Advisor who uses it with her high school youth group to tell youth who are whining to cut out the drama. To make this sign put your four fingers together but let your thumb stick up. Next rotate your arm out to the side with your palm facing away from you. Your four fingers should be parallel to the ground. Your index, middle, and ring fingers are the llama’s nose and upper lip. Your pinky, which you can move up and down, is the llama’s lower jaw. Your thumb, which you can slightly bend, is the llama’s ear. If you allow you index, middle, and ring finger to slightly curve, it looks a like the unusual facial profile of a llama.

3) The Nodding Dinosaur. This is a popular sign in UU culture. It is used to signify agreement or approval. It is often used to signal strong agreement or to communicate the sentiment, “Right on!” It is frequently used in small or large groups where verbalizing your agreement may be distracting. The “Nodding Dinosaur” is rather easy. Begin by making a fist and sticking your arm out with your knuckles pointing away from you, as if you are giving the “Black Power” salute. Now, relax your arm at the elbow, allowing your forearm to drop to almost a right angle. Finally, nod your fist enthusiastically. An easier way to explain this is to pretend that you are knocking on a door, but allow your wrist to have even greater forward motion.

4) The Snark Shark. The word “snarky” has risen to prominence over the past few years, thanks in part to blogs and internet message boards that allow people to make sarcastic remarks on any topic of their heart's desire. A “snarky” comment is a comment that is highly sarcastic or irreverent and delivered in a biting or stinging manner. A person might make the “snark shark” to signal to another person that they are being overly or annoyingly negative. To make the “snark shark” point your elbow out to the side, perpendicular to your body and bend your forearm back towards your body so that the back of your hand is facing away from you. Your fingers should be parallel to the floor. Now, stick your thumb up into the air, bending it back to resemble a shark’s fin. Next, curl your ring and pinky finger into your palm, leaving your index and middle finger straight. Now move your index and middle finger in a scissor-like motion, resembling a shark biting.

5) Various alternatives to applause. In worshipping communities there is often a debate about the place of applause in worship. Some people consider it to be a genuine outpouring of appreciation. Others consider it disruptive to worship or even disrespectful, placing the focus on the performer rather than on the holy. Various UU groups have come up with their own ways to signal appreciation without the raucous sound of applause. At the Arlington Street Church in Boston, a worshipper might make a fist but leave the index finger sticking out. Then this person waves the finger in a circular pattern above their head. Another popular sign of appreciation is to raise both arms into the air and to wiggle your fingers. (I have heard that this is how applause is conveyed in American Sign Language.) However, my favorite way to express appreciation is to put my palms together and rub. This is not silent, however it does convey a sound that I find to be peaceful rather than jarring.