How to Say “Not About” in American Sign Language (ASL)

American Sign Language (ASL) is a rich visual language used by the deaf community in the United States and parts of Canada. When expressing the concept of “not about” in ASL, you can convey it through various signs, facial expressions, and body language. In this guide, we will explore both formal and informal ways to express “not about” in ASL, providing you with tips and examples along the way.

Formal Ways to Say “Not About” in ASL

When using ASL in formal situations, such as during presentations or in professional settings, there are specific signs and techniques you can use to convey the concept of “not about” clearly. Here are some formal ways to express “not about” in ASL:

1. Use the “NOT” sign

The most straightforward way to indicate “not about” in ASL is by using the sign for “NOT.” To make the “NOT” sign, place your non-dominant hand as a flat surface, palm facing up. Then, with your dominant hand, make an “X” shape by crossing your index and middle fingers, and tap the top of your non-dominant hand a couple of times. This sign emphasizes negation and can be used in various contexts to convey the concept of “not about.”

2. Incorporate the sign for “OFF” or “AWAY”

Tip: To add depth and clarity to your signing, you can combine the “NOT” sign with the signs for “OFF” or “AWAY.” This combination can further emphasize the separation between the subject and what it is not about. For instance, if you want to say “This presentation is not about science,” you can sign “PRESENTATION NOT ABOUT SCIENCE OFF” or “PRESENTATION NOT ABOUT SCIENCE AWAY.”

Informal Ways to Say “Not About” in ASL

In informal situations like casual conversations between friends or family, ASL users may choose to express “not about” using shorter and simpler signs. Here are some informal ways to convey “not about” in ASL:

1. Flicking off the topic

One informal way of conveying the concept of “not about” in ASL is by using a flicking motion with your non-dominant hand to suggest pushing away or dismissing the topic. While maintaining direct eye contact with the person you are communicating with, flick your wrist outward as if to flick off an imaginary object. Combine this gesture with appropriate facial expressions to further reinforce your intent. This technique is often used in casual conversations to clarify that the current discussion is not related to a particular subject.

2. Use a headshake and a shake of the index finger

Another informal way of expressing “not about” in ASL is through a combination of head movements and finger shaking. While maintaining eye contact, shake your head gently from side to side in a smooth motion. Simultaneously, shake your index finger back and forth, as if playfully wagging it. This combination of gestures helps to convey a sense of negation and informally signals that the topic being discussed is not relevant to the current conversation.


To further illustrate the different ways to say “not about” in ASL, let’s consider a few examples:

  • Example 1: If someone asks if a movie is about politics, you can use the sign for “NOT” with the flicking-off gesture, followed by the sign for “POLITICS.” This combination signifies that the movie is not about politics.
  • Example 2: Suppose you’re at a family gathering, and someone brings up a topic you’d rather not discuss. You can use a headshake combined with a finger wag, along with the sign for “NOT,” to indicate that the topic is not about something you wish to discuss in that setting.
  • Example 3: In a formal setting, such as a business meeting, if a colleague raises a subject unrelated to the agenda, you can use the sign for “NOT” followed by the sign for “AGENDA” to signal that the topic is not part of the planned discussion.

Regional Variations

ASL has regional variations, and signs can differ from one area to another. While the signs and techniques described in this guide are widely used and recognized across the United States, it is essential to note that some regional variations may exist. If you’re communicating with someone from a specific region, it is always a good idea to familiarize yourself with their local ASL to ensure effective communication.

Remember, ASL is a dynamic language, and the signs used may evolve over time. Therefore, it is crucial to stay open-minded and receptive to new signs or variations you may encounter when signing with different individuals.

In conclusion, expressing “not about” in ASL can be done formally using signs like “NOT” or by incorporating the signs for “OFF” or “AWAY.” Alternatively, in informal settings, you can flick off the topic or combine head movements and finger shaking to convey negation. Always be mindful of regional variations when communicating with others, and keep in mind that ASL is a living language that continues to evolve. Happy signing!

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