Prison Sign Language, 1941

Back in the 1940s, talking wasn't allowed in the dining room of the Iowa State Penitentiary at Fort Madison. So the convicts developed a primitive sign language to communicate what food they wanted:
  • Upheld hand: more bread, please
  • Upraised fist: more potatoes
  • Upheld knife, fork and spoon: more stew
  • Washing motion with the hand: water
  • Thumb up and index finger straight out: coffee or tea
  • Open and close the hand as if milking a cow: milk, please!
  • Hand flat and passed back and forth across the plate: gravy
  • Fork held up: meat
  • Thumb thrust through the fingers: vinegar
  • Two fingers thrust out: salt and pepper
  • If the person at the end of the table beats the table with his spoon: dessert is on the way
[Milwaukee Sentinel — Nov 16, 1941]
     Posted By: Alex - Sun Apr 14, 2013
     Category: Languages | Prisons | 1940s

I wonder what's the sign for arugula?
Posted by tyler tork on 04/14/13 at 09:54 AM
Alex and Paul know all the current ones but they aren't sharing 😕
Posted by BrokeDad in Midwest US on 04/14/13 at 10:37 AM
...and what is the signal to pick up that bar of soap?
Posted by Harvey on 04/14/13 at 11:37 AM
@Tyler: Index finger pointing into an open mouth.
Posted by Expat47 in Athens, Greece on 04/15/13 at 12:27 AM
As long as your conversations are oriented around food, you'll do alright. What about any deep philosophy?
Posted by KDP on 04/15/13 at 10:16 AM
@KDP: Index finger pointing at temple while making circular motions.
Posted by Expat47 in Athens, Greece on 04/15/13 at 10:51 AM
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