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COKE: The American Sign Language (ASL) sign for "coke (the beverage)"

I recommend you just spell the word "Coke."  There is a very interesting "legacy" version of the sign (see below) but it is very common to see adult native Deaf signers just spell C-O-K-E.

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COKE (legacy version)
I'm including this legacy version of the sign because you might still see it out there in the community and I want you to recognize it and realize that it is not a "joke" sign. It was used for many years. (And is still very popular!)

The sign for "Coke" as in "Coco-Cola" looks as if you are jabbing a needle into your arm. It is done by using your dominant hand index finger to poke your non-dominant arm's bicep.

It's true folks.  I'm not making this up! And I'm not talking about "cocaine." I'm talking about the drink.

COKE ("Coco-Cola" soda-pop)


Sample sentence: PEPSI OR-[shift] COKE YOU PREFER WHICH?




COKE (as in the drink) is an interesting sign that looks like you are sticking a needle in your arm.
Why this is the case is debated somewhat in the Deaf world. Many people think it is because of the idea of "shooting up" with Cocaine.  I've been told however by more than one old Deaf codger that the sign originally had to do with the idea that in the old days when Deaf kids would have to go to the doctor to get a "shot" they would afterward be rewarded with a bottle of Coke.
--Dr. Bill 
p.s. The sign "cocaine" is totally different.  It is an "A" hand, (palm left, if you are right handed) brought to the nose with a very small double movement.

In a message dated 4/17/2008 12:36:53 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, Joanne_Wiggins@ writes:
I've been enjoying your excellent website & came across the sign for "coke" & your speculations as to its origin.  Here's my 2 cents:  According to my Dad--Georgia born & raised (Georgia being the home of said beverage)--when he was growing up in the 30's & 40's, the slang term for a "coke" was "dope"--as in, "Give me a dope". [Presumably this was a reference to the cocaine that was apparently part of the original formula.]  Maybe that "hearing" slang term found its way into sign language as well. 

Joanne Wiggins
English Teacher
Midlothian Middle School
Midlothian, VA



Assertion from a random internet commenter:
"I am willing to bet that the sign for coke is because a long time ago, way back when, there was coke in Coke."

Response from Dr. Bill:
I personally try to be cautious about adopting plausible folk etymologies in lieu of more culturally / historically (more likely) authentic etymologies. Sure the "coke in Coke" etymology seems outwardly plausible but stories passed down in the Deaf Community tend to focus on a drink of soda pop (Coke) being given as a reward for Deaf kids who got their shot from a doctor.



Also see: PEPSI

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