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BEER: The American Sign Language (ASL) sign for "beer"

NOTE:  This sign is very, very similar to the sign for "BROWN."






In this variation I'm just moving my hand up and down an inch or two.
There is another popular variation that uses a slight rotational movement, (up, back, down, forward).  Both variations are done on the lower right cheek near the chin. (Of course, lefties do the sign on the left -- mirror image).


Sample sentence: Does your roommate prefer light or dark beer?






You may also see people fingerspelling BEER, since it is a short 4-letter word:





Dr. Vicars,

This is Wolfman, I would like to know if you'd help me distinguish the difference between two signs in detail please, I am having trouble with? The two signs are the sign for beer and the sign for brown, because looking at them on your site has both of them using the side of your hand go up and down your chin a few inches. I mean I enjoy a good laugh and a little confusion a much as the next guy but it would sound weird but hilarious if I asked someone " Do you like the color beer?" or " Want a cold brown?", haha ha, or better yet tell me a different sign for beer I could use to avoid the very funny but honest confusion, so please help me if you have time.

Thanks much,


Dear Wolfman,


I'll tell you how I do these two signs, but that doesn't mean you won't still see some variations out there.

I do the sign for the color brown a little higher on my cheek than the sign for beer.
I sign beer on my lower cheek, near my chin. Some people sign beer using a small circular movement, but it seems like most of my associates just use two small downward movements.  I just grabbed my friend Byron Cantrell (Deaf) who was on break from teaching a class and asked him how he signs BEER and BROWN.  He does the two signs the exact same and relies on context to make the difference clear.

In looking at a few ASL dictionaries, I notice that one says to do BROWN with a single movement, another says to do it with a double movement. (So, you see, the dictionaries themselves do not agree.)

Here are some observations.  

From what I've seen, BEER is almost always done with a double movement.
I've seen BROWN done with either a single or double movement.

I've seen BROWN done with an emphasized single longer movement to indicate "dark or deep" brown.

I've seen BEER done to the side of the chin and on the side of the cheek.

I've only seen BROWN done on the side of the cheek and never on the side of the chin
Brown has an older version that reminds me of the sign for "water" dripping.  This sign uses a loose four hand, palm left, held out and slightly to the right, at about the level of your abdomen, shakes downward twice.)






Is "brown" one stroke and "beer" two? They look really similar.

In general -- BROWN tends to be one stroke and BEER tends to be two. However, if you sign BEER quickly while drunk you might only do it once.

Kidding aside::
Generally brown is once.
Generally beer is twice.
However beer is often done once after you've introduced the topic and have been discussing it for a while.
Does that mean beer and brown look the same sometimes?
Yes. That's exactly what it means.
Can they be made to look differently?
Yes -- by doing a single, relatively large movement for brown and a quick double movement for beer.
Some people even do a small rotational movement for beer (butt that is much less common these days).


In a message dated 12/11/2009 1:25:10 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, Beth in Honolulu writes:
When I took my first ASL class (approximately 100 years ago ... back in 1966) my teacher, a CODA, explained the differences between water and wine as "wine is the water that makes your cheeks rosy," hence the circular motion at the side of the face indicating rosy cheeks. She used the same circular motion when signing "beer" ... for the same reason. So for most of my life I've been signing beer with the same circular motion I use for "wine." In class yesterday I showed my students this as well as your version and told them they should use whichever "accent" they felt was comfortable for themselves.

Ha! That is great!  I love any type of historical information about signs.
I used to sign BEER with a circular movement too for years! Then when I interviewed tons of people in Sacramento (my current home) nobody seemed to go for the circle movement!!! So I changed my sign.
Good to see I wasn't crazy or alone. 
Well, maybe I was crazy (still am) but not alone in having used the circular movement.



Additional reading:

In the "American Sign Language A Comprehensive Dictionary" written by Martin L.A. Sternberg, Ed.D. (published in 1981)


The entry for BEER is notated as: "The right "Y" hand is raised to the lips, as the head tilts back a bit."





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