Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


to communicate using sign language

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The verb sign was first used in English in the 13th century. It is borrowed from French and Latin words ‘sener’ and ‘signare’. It was first used to mean ‘to communicate using sign language’ in the mid 19th century.


Today is International Day of Sign Languages (IDSL), established by a declaration of the UN General Assembly in December 2017. The date of 23 September was chosen as it commemorates the date the World Federation of the Deaf was founded in 1951. The aim of the International Day of Sign Languages is to raise awareness of sign languages and strengthen their status. To sign is to use a sign language, and communicating in this way is called signing. Sign languages develop wherever there are deaf people and they are classified as natural languages each with its own grammar and lexicon. It is not known how many signed languages there are in the world today; the number is estimated at somewhere between 138 and 300. There are dictionaries of signed languages just as there are for spoken and written languages. You can find some examples of British and American Sign Language dictionaries here and here.


Sign language is the equal of speech, lending itself equally to the rigorous and the poetic, to philosophical analysis or to making love.”
(Oliver Sacks, Seeing Voices)

Related words

Makaton, signing, sign language

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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