Mystery Messsages [NOT 2/9/22]

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Stop Bureau of Prohibition Sign
Detail from Stop When You See This Sign, 1930 / Credit:

Symbolic Huhs?

Our Esteemed Colleague Lemmy left us scratching our heads over the mysteries of the English language a few days ago, and I thought I’d steal from him shamelessly for this NOT.

Only instead of words, I thought I’d puzzle about more symbolic matters. What do you wonder about non-verbal messages?

For example, I’ve noticed that a lot of people don’t know what to do if a stoplight switches from the regular red/yellow/green to flashing red/flashing yellow. Why not?

For that matter, although a lot of intersections have red signs (STOP) or yellow signs (YIELD) why don’t we have green signs (GO)? I often see people come to unmarked intersections and…. hesitate… then creep through, instead of just driving through. Would a GO sign help? Or does this just add to visual clutter?

Symbols That Work – Or Don’t

Does your dog or cat do something that clearly symbolizes something to them, but you just can’t figure it out? Do you puzzle about a particular bird call?

What about handshakes — now that people are loosening up about Covid, do you find people are having a hard time rethinking when and how to do them? Or maybe you know someone who was overjoyed to reject them altogether forever and ever?

Are there table manners which have a deep symbolic meaning, like the proper usage of a napkin, that always leave you baffled? Or do you have a basic emoji like thumbs up which you use in texts but a certain person always misinterprets?

Is there a code signal you have with someone else that always signals when it’s time to leave a party? Or do you and a sibling have a sign you’ve used to signal excitement since you were seven? Or maybe there was a symbol you wish we had, like a more polite version of the middle finger which simply indicated you merely wished to be left alone?

What symbols work for you, or always fail?



  1. i discovered the angry red cat thats always picking fights with mine is probably abused

    i mean….it flinched everytime i made the shoo motion

    a non abused cat would have just looked at me like im crazy i figure


    anyways… a big fan of non verbal communication

    ive got fucking signs for everything….and the wierd thing is they are generally understood too…even when when dont share a lingo

    this be wharehouse life

    • I wonder if it’s a European thing? Despite there being more non-English speakers and more Americans with immigrant parents, we’re still pretty bad at managing if talking isn’t an option.

      • i cant give you an answer on that one

        its natural to me to give a twirly finger when telling someone to turn the car around

        i kinda figured it was world wide tho?

        i mean how do yous guide in a big ass truck?

        ive got my twirles and woahs..what do you got?

        • Farscy, like you, I do a looooot of non-spoken communication!😉😂💖

          And your mention of this, “ive got fucking signs for everything….and the wierd thing is they are generally understood too…even when when dont share a lingo”…

          Along with your “warehouse” mention, kiiiiinda makes me wonder if maaaaaybe *that’s* part of why i do the same & I’m good at it?😄

          Because–like you–i definitely do the “turn it around” twirly-fingers (along with the “Stop!,” “Straighten your wheels,” “Back up sloooowly,” “This much space left,” “Trailer right,” “Trailer Left,” and Cut the engine, or you’ll get us all full of exhaust & kill us in here!”)

          I’m sure in my case, it’s from watching my Dad as a kid.

          He was *always* the guy who’d jump in during any emergency situation *or* just your general traffic mess/parking-lot emptying situation, and start guiding traffic, to get everyone out sooner.

          He did it as a member of the volunteer fire department when necessary, too.

          And he was *also* the guy who’d direct the firetrucks, first-responder vehicles, milk trucks, & semis, when they had tight spaces to clear, *or* they were backing up into parking spots or truck bays.

          It was a skill I’m pretty sure he picked up, when he was in the Navy–since he was a hydraulicsman on the E-2’s, when he was on the Forrestal.

          This is the crew from a later tour, but it’s got some great examples of what the plane looked like back then, and in the bottom shot, you can even see the “hook” down, ready to snag the cable as the plane is coming in to land😉

          Dad was involved with lots of take-offs & landings when he was on board, so I’m preeeetty sure *that* was where he got the “non-verbal directions” skills he used to be so good at.


          • my favourite gesture is the take it easy

            both hands making the put a fucking lid on it motion

            (i realize that is less than helpful to those that dont speak hand…..its both hands flat and straight making a downward motion)

          • nd Cut the engine, or you’ll get us all full of exhaust & kill us in here!”)

            *cuts hand across throat….sticks out tongue for comedic value*


            im fairly confident i nailed the universal language there…..wierd its not a go to in the states

            • Yep!!!

              Typically, though, if *I* have to use it? that driver’s getting the death-ray look, rather than anything comedic!😉😆💖

              And 100% agreement, with the other sentiment–that it really is a shame that more US-type Americans don’t/can’t speak in hand-signal!

      • i figure like any religion..its ignore all the bits the bits that dont suit you and embrace the bits that do

        i mean what are you going to do?


        oh no deny me entry into heaven?

        yeah fuck that shit…ill go down with the fun people


        i mean im going to ditch them too first chance i get…noisy fuckers

        i can take care of me

      • It is kind of like aloha, means different things depending on context.  Can be used from “howzit brah” to “thanks for not running me over” & everything in between.  We also are required by law to do it in all group pictures for some reason. It’s also like a handshake where we can tell if u r a local or a tourist by how you do it.  I could write a book & am surprised if nobody has already.  It can definitely be done when someone flips you off to say “ yeah, you are not worth my time, have a nice day”

  2. I use emoticons in slack to acknowledge that I have seen a ping, when it does not require a typed response or a verbal huddle. For 99% of situations, the eye roll face 🙄, the thumbs up 👍, or the boom💥 are sufficient.

  3. Butcher Dog does this thing where her rear end flutters and almost levitates off the floor. We’re pretty sure it means that we’ve accurately guessed the thing she wants to do, but there’s really no telling.

    • Our dog does this thing where she looks at us and lifts her lip and shows her teeth, and my best guess is she’s imitating us smiling at her.

      Dog behavior people usually say it’s some version of “nonagressive greeting behavior” which sounds pretty similar to smiling. It definitely happens when she’s in a playful mood.

  4. Regarding the question on the mainpage, of “would you do ok?”


    100% YES, I could EASILY communicate/ understand communication, without speaking!

    I do it allllll the time when I’m working with my pre-K’ers😉💖

    I use (and make!) Picture communication cards all year, to use with our kids–and I use basic ASL signs nearly daily, too.

    I also taught Lily commands in ASL, just in case we were separated & she couldn’t *hear* me, but could still *see* me.

    And, I used ASL, rather than the typical/local “doggy signs” trainers use, because I’d originally planned to get her trained up & certified as a working Therapy Dog (she 100% had the temperament). ASL was a better choice, if we had done therapy work–in case we’d run into any kids who communicated via ASL.😉💖

    Now that I’m in ECSE?

    Lots of my kiddos are non-speaking, selectively mute, have speech-articulation issues, or are simply “pre-verbal.” I’ve only known one so far, who is unlikely to ever speak aloud.

    That child, in particular, was a FABULOUS example of the concept of “One’s Receptive Language is 100% *not* related to their Expressive Language!”

    He understood spoken English *perfectly!*

    But for *some* reason–possibly related somehow to his autism–the nerves running from his brain to *all* the different body parts & muscles one must control to make “speech” sounds?

    They simply didn’t sync up!

    He could make “noises” with his lungs pushing air through his voice box… but he wasn’t able to *coordinate* his lungs, diaphragm, voice box, throat muscles, mouth, & tongue *all at once* to produce “words” in English.

    Thing is? The kiddo could communicate!! And he did so– EASILY & clearly–when he had access to ASL, PECS, and/or an ACC device!😉

    He just couldn’t “talk” verbally/audibly in a reliable manner.

    He was a smart little dude, who picked up communication at the drop of a hat! He just couldn’t *speak out loud* with any reliability or ease.

    Heck, he picked up his first words in ASL from watching across the room(!🤯😃💞), as teachers in that room were trying to teach *another* child some ASL!😆😂🤣💖

    He was *reliably & CORRECTLY* using those signs, within five minutes(!!!) of seeing them the first time😁💖

    And he never forgot them, or needed correction using ’em, either–He simply couldn’t “talk” aloud!

    He’s a child I’ll never forget, and I’m SO grateful that I met him early in my career, because the lessons he taught me regarding language, have helped me to be a better staff, AND they mean I look at all my kiddos’ speech skills as wholly *separate* entities–Receptive =/= Expressive!😉💖

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