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The Etymology of Sign Language

I love etymology. Tracing a word back to its earliest known origins makes a writer feel like an archaeologist, anthropologist, and genealogist. Etymology can help recover the ideas and shades of meaning that have been obscured by the sediment of centuries. Breaking a word into its component parts often releases a tremendous amount of latent energy. What’s interesting is that I now I live in a house where sign language is often used. I’ve learned that the sign for “orange” looks a lot like someone making homemade orange juice. The signs for “king” and “queen” involve tracing the line of a sash across your torso. And the sign for “shower” looks like someone standing under a shower head. Sign language often seems to be rooted in the material world, which strikes me as a kind of etymology. I find it endlessly fascinating and hope to learn more.


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