Lately I've been thinking about the kinematics and kinemes of ASL. For lack of better terminology, I'll use "side-to-side" to mean the movement one's finger makes when tilting it left or right (either once/held or wiggling back and forth; for example see this GIF). Side-to-side is specifically in reference to the finger joint movement, not wrist or arm movement which moves a stationary finger. For the purpose of this question, the thumb is a finger as well.

My question is, are there any signs in ASL which use side-to-side movements of fingers? If so, which fingers and what signs?

  • That movement is usually called wagging your finger. I don’t know any sign languages, but in spoken language (well, in English anyway) it’s usually used to indicate an often humorous reproach or rejection, often accompanied by a verbal /ʔaʔaʔaʔa/ or ‘no-no-no-no’. Sep 28, 2021 at 22:28
  • @JanusBahsJacquet note that my question is both about wagging one's finger, and just holding the finger in that tilted position. Essentially just any deviation from vertical
    – Drake P
    Sep 29, 2021 at 1:03

1 Answer 1


While contemplating this question I've come to a partial answer, mainly with regards to tilting fingers. If anyone can think of examples of signs with wagging any fingers (including the thumb), I encourage you to add that as an answer. :)

There are at least two situations I've thought of that require sideways finger movement. The first is the difference between handshapes "U" and "V":

"U" handshape vs "V" handshape

There is also a tilting difference between the handshapes for "B" or "Classifier B" vs "5 hand":

"B" handshape or "Classifier B" handshape vs "5 hand" handshape

(Source of images: https://www.lifeprint.com/asl101/pages-layout/handshapes.htm)

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