Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same — Food

Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same — Food

By Brenda Cartwright
Wednesday, March 29, 2023

This article is written by Brenda Cartwright (BC). Brenda is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher and a well known author. BC also contributes numerous blog articles for Signing Savvy. Look for them on the “Articles” tab on our website.

This article is part of our “Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same” series, which highlights signs that look similar, but have different meanings.

The ASL signs shown below look similar, but are not the same. There are many ASL signs that when produced look similar, but in fact have a completely different meaning. Below you will find examples of such signs. Watch closely to see if you can see the differences. In addition, watch my eyebrows, look to see when I tilt my head or lean my body in a certain way, even what my mouth is doing. These nuances are called inflections and trust me, inflections matter.

These examples are all food signs.

1. Breakfast vs. Lunch vs. Dinner

BREAKFAST, LUNCH, and DINNER are all compound signs that start with the sign for EAT.

2. Soft Drink vs. Tea vs. Vote

SOFT DRINK, TEA, and VOTE all have the dominant hand, palm down, start in the F handshape and do movement on top of the non-dominant O handshape.

  • SOFT DRINK has the dominant hand in the F handshape go inside the top of the non-dominant hand and then the dominant hand pulls up and changes to the 5 handshape and then slaps back down. Think of the top of a soft drink bottle popping off and pushing it back on.
  • TEA has the dominant hand make a circular motion around the inside rim of the non-dominant hand. Think of swirling a tea bag around in a mug.
  • VOTE has the dominant hand in the F handshape tap down into the non-dominant hand twice. Think of placing a ballot into the voting box.

3. Apple vs. Onion

APPLE and ONION both have the X handshape, palm down, twist two times.

  • APPLE is formed on the cheek. Remember the sign is formed on the cheek by thinking of an apple a day giving your cheeks a healthy glow.
  • ONION is formed by the corner of your eye. Remember the sign is formed next to your eye by thinking of onions making your eyes water.

4. Water vs. Wine

WATER and WINE both have the dominant W handshape, with the palm facing the non-dominant side of the body, by the face.

  • WATER is formed under the lower lip and taps two times. Remember it is signed near the mouth because that is where you drink water.
  • WINE is formed on the side of your cheek and makes a small circular movement two times. Remember it is signed by the cheek since drinking wine can make your cheeks rosy.

5. Eggs vs. Easter

EGGS and EASTER have both hands, with the palms down, start together and then move apart two times. You can remember this movement because it is like cracking an egg. EGGS uses the H handshape, while EASTER uses the E handshape.

6. Turkey vs. Dirty vs. Pig

The signs for TURKEY, DIRTY, and PIG are each formed with the dominant hand, palm down, under the chin.

  • TURKEY uses the G handshape and makes a wiggling movement. Think of a turkey's wattle and remember to use the G handshape by thinking of a turkey going "Gobble Gobble.”
  • DIRTY uses the 5 handshape and wiggles the fingers. Think of your hand being dirty and wiggling your fingers to have the dirt fall off.
  • PIG uses the bent B handshape and bends down two times. You can remember this sign because it is similar to DIRTY, and PIGS like to get DIRTY in the mud.

7. Corn on the Cob vs. Sandwich vs. Picnic

CORN ON THE COB, SANDWICH, and PICNIC use both hands at the mouth.

  • CORN ON THE COB has the hands, with the palms facing each other, in the bent 3 handshape, move from side to side. Think of eating CORN ON THE COB.
  • SANDWICH has the hands, with the palms facing each other, in the bent C handshape, come toward the mouth. Think of holding and eating a SANDWICH.
  • PICNIC has the hands on top of each other (dominant hand on top), with the palms down, in the bent B handshape. You may think of eating food while on a PICNIC.

8. Hamburger vs. Cheeseburger

HAMBURGER and CHEESEBURGER look similar because they both include the sign for HAMBURGER. However, CHEESEBURGER is a compound sign merging CHEESE + HAMBURGER.

9. French Fries vs. 99

Both FRENCH FRIES and 99 have a double movement while using the dominant hand in the F handshape. FRENCH FRIES has the palm forward, while 99 has the palm down.

You can remember the palm orientation of 99 because it follows the pattern of all the double number signs.

10. Cookie vs. Pie

COOKIE and PIE both have the dominant hand in action on top of the non-dominant open B handshape.

  • COOKIE has the dominant hand in a bent 5 handshape, with the palm down, touch the non-dominant palm, lift and twist, and then come down to touch the palm again. Think of using a COOKIE cutter to cut COOKIE dough.
  • PIE has the dominant hand in the open B handshape, with the palm sideways, slice in one direction and then slice in the other direction. Think of slicing a piece of PIE.

11. Favorite vs. Taste vs. Lucky

FAVORITE, TASTE, and LUCKY all start with the open 8 handshape, thumb extended, and palm towards your body, near the bottom of your face.

  • TASTE taps the lower lip. Remember TASTE is signed on the lower lip by thinking of getting food on your lip as you taste it.
  • FAVORITE taps the chin. You can remember the sign for FAVORITE is like the sign for TASTE because you love to TASTE your FAVORITE foods. Just tap the chin instead of the lower lip.
  • LUCKY touches the chin and then twists out. Remember the movement by thinking of being LUCKY because of a twist of fate.

How can I figure out the difference between signs on my own?

If you see two signs that look close, but not the same, and you’re not sure, you may use Signing Savvy features to help you figure out the difference. All of our signs have sign descriptions and memory aids that members may access. Reading the sign description and memory aids for the signs will help you figure out the small differences between them that your eyes don’t catch at first. We also recommend using the pause and slow motion feature to slow down the video, so you may take a closer look. These features are available to Signing Savvy members.

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About the Author

Brenda CartwrightBrenda Cartwright is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, well known presenter, and author of several best selling sign language and interpreting textbooks from the RID Press. For 35 years Brenda was the Chair of the Sign Language Interpreter Program at Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan.

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