ASL University ►

American Sign Language: "freshman"

Double movement.  Dominant flat hand taps the ring finger of non-dominant five hand.
The non-dominant hand doesn't move in this sign. Just the dominant hand.



Sample sentence: Are you a freshman or sophomore?

FRESHMAN:  "rat" version.
See: RAT






Many years ago when I lived in Utah I recall seeing Freshman done with an "F" and signed exactly like the sign for FOX (using a twisting near the nose version.
See: FOX  or see:

Fox was definitely being used as a version of the sign for "freshman."  I don't recommend you use "FOX" for freshman, but I thought I'd mention it just in case you see it.

You will also see the sign for RAT used to mean "freshman" -- particularly by Deaf who attended Gallaudet university due to the tradition of freshmen being given a rat and then at the end of their freshman year participating in an elaborate funeral / burial ceremony. (I've been told that these days it is done with fake rats.)

It is very likely that the "rat" tradition at Gallaudet contributed to the sign RAT being used to mean "freshman" and then someone eventually deciding to initialize that into an F on the nose to mean "freshman." Then the classic slang version of RAT = freshman has persisted throughout the years due to having an authentic story and/or roots.

In a message dated 3/27/2012 10:19:36 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time, volleyjen0416 writes:

Dear Dr. Bill,
I was wondering if you could tell me the possible definitions for a sign I will describe to you?
It's an "R" on the dominant hand that brushes forward off of the nose.  Someone told me (I think) that in Texas that sign means "freshman," but I wasn't sure. (I'm in Michigan and I've never been to Texas so of course I don't know any local Texas signs.)
Thank you,
- Jennifer

Dear Jennifer,
The version of Freshman / Freshmen to which you are referring doesn't brush "forward" off the nose, it brushes sideways across the nose twice. I do not like that sign being used for Freshman but indeed it is a variation that shows up in Texas (and elsewhere). You will also see in Texas a widespread (nation-wide) version that taps the tip of the non-dominant ring finger twice with the dominant palm.

[Edit / update:  The RAT sign being used to mean Freshman is likely based on the Gallaudet University trend of Freshmen being given a rat.]

The "R"-hand brushing the nose is an initialized version of the sign for "mouse" and generally defaults to meaning RAT. Either rat or mouse can be done in context with the same movement using the index finger. If I have to use the both "rat" and "mouse" in the same sentence I will sign RAT using the index finger and MOUSE using the pinkie. Many ASL teachers will encourage you away from using initialized versions of signs but the fact is such signs are "out there" so what I try to do is show both signs and then indicate that my preferred sign is generally the non-initialized version as long as the meaning is made clear via context. For what it is worth, I also recall seeing the sign for FOX being used to mean "freshman." (Again, I would encourage you to stick with the standard nation-wide general version of "freshman" that taps the ring finger of the non-dominant hand with the dominant palm).
Dr. Bill

In a message dated 3/27/2012 7:57:11 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, volleyjen0416 writes:

Dr. Bill,
Is that the only meaning for that sign or a similar sign?
The Deaf person signed something that looked like "RAT" then Texas.
It doesn't make sense to me that he was saying "Freshman Texas!"
He did this a couple of times.
I use the National sign for "freshman" but when I interpret I try to use the signs my clients prefer.
A Deaf friend of mine from Wisconsin signed "DUCK" for freshman, have you seen that version before?
Thanks for your help.
- Jennifer

Maybe your Deaf client was trying to tell you that "In Texas they use the sign 'RAT' to mean 'freshman'?"
Another idea here is that if the "R" hand moves forward from the mouth area it might be an "initialized" version of the sign TRUE which would then be interpreted as REAL.
Or if he had his eyebrows up it might have been "REALLY?"
Hmmm, DUCK for "Freshman" eh? I'll have to remember that for the next time I run into any Deaf "Sconnies" (Wisconsinites). I personally haven't met anyone in the five states I've lived in that use DUCK for Freshman, but hey the sign DUCK shows up in some of the weirdest places. I once met a fellow (d/Deaf) who signs "DUCK MAGAZINE" to refer to a "girly magazine" --  If I run into him again I'll have to ask him why he signs it that way and/or where he picked that up.
-- Dr. Bill

You can learn American Sign Language (ASL) online at American Sign Language University
ASL resources by    Dr. William Vicars

Want to help support ASL University?  It's easy DONATE (Thanks!)
(You don't need a PayPal account. Just look for the credit card logos and click continue.)

Another way to help is to buy something from the ASLU "Bookstore."

Want even more ASL resources?  Visit the "ASL Training Center!"  (Subscription Extension of ASLU)   CHECK IT OUT >

Bandwidth slow?  Check out "" (a free mirror of less traffic, fast access)   VISIT >


back.gif (1674 bytes)