An ASL Dictionary

Signing Savvy is a sign language dictionary containing several thousand high resolution videos of American Sign Language (ASL) signs, fingerspelled words, and other common signs used within the United States and Canada.

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Signing Savvy is an ideal resource to use while you learn sign language. It includes the ability to view signs, build word lists and share them with others, create digital flash cards and quizzes, view asl sentences, get tutoring, ...and more

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Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same - Iconic Signs

Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same - Iconic Signs

By Brenda Cartwright  |  Wednesday, July 21, 2021

This article is by Brenda Cartwright. Brenda is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, and well known presenter. Brenda is the author of the Dear Encounters with Reality column in the VIEWS publication from Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and the book Encounters With Reality: 1001 Interpreter Scenarios. She contributes blog articles for Signing Savvy on interpreting, Deaf culture, and answering a series of "Dear BC" interpreter questions.

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.

Hello! Brenda Cartwright (BC) here. Let's continue on the fun topic of: “Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same.”

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 difference. 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. Enjoy!

These examples are all iconic signs. Iconic signs are signs that look how you might think they are signed – their form looks like their meaning.

1. Type vs. Piano

TYPE and PIANO look similar because they both use bent 5 handshapes with the palms facing down. The hands are also similarly spaced and have movement in front of the body.

Paying close attention to the movement and the context in which they are used will help you tell the difference between these two signs. These signs are great examples of iconic signs and look like you think they would. TYPE looks like you are typing on a computer keyboard and PIANO looks like you are playing a piano with a sign-songy, swaying motion.

2. Pencil vs. Write

The dominant hand in the X handshape (representing the writing utensil) is used to make a writing movement on top of the non dominant open B handshape (representing the paper) when signing both PENCIL and WRITE. However, you can watch for the X handshape starting at the mouth when signing PENCIL, which is reminiscent of the past when the tip of writing utensils had to be moistened before they could be used to write. You will also notice that PENCIL has one movement across the palm, while WRITE uses a writing movement.

3. Ice Cream vs. Microphone

Don't blink or you might be confused between these two signs! Likely, the context will help you out... after all, it's unlikely someone's favorite microphone is chocolate! 

ICE CREAM and MICROPHONE both use the dominant hand in the S handshape, palm facing sideways, in front of the mouth. ICE CREAM has a repeated downward motion, like what you might make when holding and eating an ice cream cone.

You do NOT need to stick out your tongue or mimic licking ice cream when signing ICE CREAM, however, there should be mouth movement when signing MICROPHONE.

4. Telephone vs. Cell Phone

Since a cell phone is a telephone, you can use the sign for telephone for both CELL PHONE and TELEPHONE. However, a more specific sign has evolved and is now widely used for CELL PHONE.

Both signs have the dominant hand at the side of the face, similar to holding a phone to your ear. The dominant hand when signing TELEPHONE uses the Y handshape and CELL PHONE uses the C handshape. 

5. Telephone vs. Call

TELEPHONE and CALL (as in "to call someone by phone") both use the dominant hand in the Y handshape by the side of your face, but TELEPHONE taps twice towards the face, while CALL moves away from the face. You can remember the difference between these two signs because TELEPHONE is like the motion of bringing a phone to your ear when you are ready to make a call and CALL moves away from your body, indicating that you are calling someone else.

6. Tree vs. Deaf Applause

Both TREE and APPLAUSE (as in "deaf applause") use the hands in the 5 handshape raised vertically and the hands make a twisting motion.

For TREE only the dominant hand is in this position (symbolizing a tree) and rests on top of the horizontal non dominant hand with the palm down (symbolizing the ground). When signing this, you can think of a tree planted in the ground, with its branches (your hand / fingers) twisting in the wind.

APPLAUSE uses both hands and you can think of this sign as being like waving your hands in the air so that Deaf people can see your admiration.

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

If you see two signs that look close, but not the same, but you’re not sure, you can use Signing Savvy features to help you figure out the difference. All of our signs have sign descriptions and memory aids that members can access. Reading the sign description and memory aids for the signs can 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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Living Loud: William Ellsworth “Dummy” Hoy – Major League Baseball Player Credited with Originating the Use of Baseball Signals

Living Loud: William Ellsworth “Dummy” Hoy – Major League Baseball Player Credited with Originating the Use of Baseball Signals

By Marta Belsky  |  Wednesday, June 30, 2021

This article is by Marta Belsky. Marta is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 30 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users.

This article is part of our “Living Loud” series, which in addition to featuring well-known people who are deaf or hard of hearing, also highlights hearing individuals or unique developments that have positively impacted the world.

William Ellsworth Hoy was born May 23, 1862 on a farm in Houcktown, Ohio. He became deaf after having spinal meningitis or what they called "brain fever" when he was two or three years old. 

Hoy started at the Ohio School for the Deaf (then called “the Deaf and Dumb Institute”) when he was 10 years old. Around 1870, the Ohio School for the Deaf was the first school for the deaf to introduce baseball, and Edward Joseph "Dummy" Dundon, who graduated one year before Hoy, became the first deaf professional baseball player and the first deaf person to officiate as umpire in a professional game.

Like "Dummy" Dundon and ANY deaf Major League Baseball player during this time period, Hoy was given the nickname "Dummy" and it was used throughout the rest of his life like a first name. Although it was a thoughtless and insensitive nickname, Hoy preferred to be called Dummy over William, Will, or Bill. Even at the age of 95, he wrote to The Sporting News saying, "Tell them to call me Dummy again, like they always did."

A Regular Cracker Jack!

“ On the whole I found it no handicap... indeed, my deafness was often an asset. The yelling of the opposition was useless as far as I was concerned, and they soon found that out. As to the yelling of my own coaches, it meant nothing to me.

     - William Dummy Hoy    

Hoy was smart: he was the valedictorian of his graduating class in 1879. He opened his own business, a shoe store, but when things got a little slow, Hoy joined in the neighborhood kids’ baseball games. During a tryout with a professional pitcher, a scout saw him hitting every pitch, and encouraged him to go to Milwaukee. Even though he was short and skinny (5'4", 150 pounds), and yes, by the way, deaf, he was later signed to a baseball team in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

When asked if his deafness was a handicap or asset during his baseball career, Hoy said, "On the whole I found it no handicap... indeed, my deafness was often an asset. The yelling of the opposition was useless as far as I was concerned, and they soon found that out. As to the yelling of my own coaches, it meant nothing to me."

Major League Career

Dummy HoyPhoto of Hoy taken in 1888, the year he started playing in the Major League for the Washington Senators. (Photo Credit: Goodwin & Co. [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Hoy began his Major League career in 1888 when he joined the National League Washington Senators. People might have had doubts about his ability, but in his first Major League year Hoy proved them all wrong. Turns out skinny, short guys can steal a lot of bases: Hoy led the National League with 82 steals his rookie year. Across his career, he became one of the all-time leaders in stolen bases (ranked 13th). Twice Hoy led the league in walks, and once in stolen bases and at-bats. He had a career total 2,054 hits (including 40 home runs) in 1,798 games over 14 years. In one of his most amazing games, he threw out three Indianapolis base-runners at home plate in one game on June 19, 1889... from the outfield. He is one of only three baseball players in history that can claim that accomplishment.

Hoy played on four pennant-winning teams: Oshkosh Club of the Northwestern League in 1887, Chicago White Stockings of the American League in 1900 and 1901, and Los Angeles Looloos of the Pacific Coast League in 1903.

In 1902, a historic game was played as Hoy batted against pitcher Luther Haden "Dummy" Taylor, who was also deaf. It was the only game in Major League Baseball history where two deaf professional baseball players have played against each other.


After an outstanding career, Hoy retired in 1903 at age 43. In his retirement, he bought and ran a dairy farm for twenty years before selling it in 1924. During World War I, he was a personnel director for Goodyear Tires. He coached the Goodyear Silents baseball club from 1919 to 1920, and umpired Deaf-team games. 


Dummy HoyHoy threw the first pitch at the opening of the national league season in a game between the Reds and Chicago Cubs in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo Credit: AP Photo)

When Hoy first started in the Major Leagues, there were no signals and umpires only shouted the calls. According to legend, Hoy asked the umpires to signal strikes and balls and also taught his teammates fingerspelling and signs, which they used to communicate on the field and to avoid collisions during fly balls. Because of this legend, some sources credit Hoy for originating the use of standard baseball signals, such as for strike, ball, safe, and out, now used throughout the world by umpires. However, some also credit Dummy Dundon and umpire Bill Klem for starting the use of baseball signs. A documentary film about this dispute was created called Signs of the Time: The Myth, The Mystery, the Legend of Baseball’s Greatest Innovation starring Richard Dreyfuss.

In addition to the documentary Signs of the Time: The Myth, The Mystery, the Legend of Baseball’s Greatest Innovation (2008) and an off-Broadway play in Chicago called The Signal Season of Dummy Hoy, a documentary called Dummy Hoy: A Deaf Hero (2007) (also known as I See the Crowd Roar) and a film called The Silent Natural (2019) was created about Hoy’s life. There is also a children's book about his life called The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game.

In 1951, the American Athletic Association of the Deaf Hall of Fame honored Hoy by electing him as its first member. He has also been inducted into the Ohio Baseball Hall of Fame, and the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, although efforts to get him elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown have so far been unsuccessful.

The baseball field at Gallaudet University was named the William "Dummy" Hoy Baseball Field in his honor. Additionally, events have been created in Hoy’s honor. Every two years the William "Dummy" Hoy Classic baseball game is held during Deaf Awareness Week. Several cities have proclamations issuing "Dummy Hoy Day" on Hoy’s birthday (May 23rd) including Cincinnati, Columbus, Hancock County in Ohio, Buffalo in New York, Louisville in Kentucky, and Oshkosh in Wisconsin.

On October 7, 1961 Hoy threw his last ball at the Opening Day of the third World Series game in Crosley Field (Reds v. Yankees). At 99, he was the oldest living Major League Baseball player. He died just two months later on December 15th, but as a legend of baseball, Hoy lives on in his records.

See It Signed - Example Sentence

See this example sentence about Hoy:


English Example: William “Dummy” Hoy was a Deaf Major League Baseball player and some say he helped establish the baseball signals for safe and out calls.

Become a Member of Signing Savvy to see more example sentences signed, including example sentences related to Deaf Culture.

More on Hoy




  1. Camp, Ted (2011, September 22). A Tribute to Andrew Foster. Silent Word Ministries. Retrieved from:
  2. MSM Productions, Ltd. (n.d.). Dummy Hoy Homeplate Website. Retrieved from
  3. Moore, Matthew S. and Panara, Robert F. (1996). Great Deaf Americans (2nd ed.). Rochester, New York: Deaf Life Press.
  4. Baseball-Almanac, Inc. (n.d.). Dummy Hoy Stats. Retrieved from
  5. Craig, Lori. (n.d.). Lobby Display - Hand Signals and Dummy Hoy: Who Created Those Hand Signals? Rochester Institute of Technology: National Technical Institute of the Deaf. Retrieved from

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About the Author

Marta Belsky Marta Belsky is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 30 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users. Marta is on the Lansing Community College Interpreter Training Program Advisory Board and has also been a board member for the Michigan Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and the Michigan Chapter of American Sign Language Teachers Association.

More about Marta  |  Articles by Marta

New Tutor Available! Suellen Bahleda Tutors Those Learning ASL and Questions About Religious Signing

By Jillian Winn  |  Friday, May 7, 2021

We’re excited to announce that we have added a new person to our tutoring team!

Tutoring sessions let you meet online, one-on-one through video chat. Each session is unique to meet the needs of the person who scheduled the chat. 

Suellen BahledaSuellen Bahleda is now available for tutoring sessions.

Across 20 years and several states, Suellen Bahleda became certified, interpreted, taught entry-level as well as advanced ASL and interpreting classes, and presented workshops. Now she is a pastor for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and is the author of several American Sign Language books. She has also been a member of the Signing Savvy Advisory Board since 2015.

She is a great resource for answering questions about religious signing, however, she is happy to tutor ASL learners of any interest or skill level.

We’re very happy to have Suellen join the tutoring team and to be able to offer one-on-one sessions with her. You can view her availability and schedule sessions with her now through our tutoring page.

Tutoring is also still available with our longstanding tutoring expert Marta Belsky.

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