A couple of years ago, Scientific American's Ferris Jabr wrote a really fascinating story about the sign language of science. Along the way, he touched on an issue I'd never thought of before. Turns out, a lot of technical, scientific terms haven't made their way into official sign language vocabulary. At the same time, these words are often far too long to bother fingerspelling. The solution: Translators at scientific conferences invent signs, often on the fly.
Not surprisingly, though, that can get confusing. What if two translators use different signs for the same word? That's why the Scottish Sensory Centre has taken the time to standardize translations of 119 words from the world of physics into British Sign Language. The the new signs will make it easier for Deaf students to understand what they're learning in science class, and make physics more open to them as a career choice.
The glossary builds on existing signs used by the deaf community and on "the visual or metaphorical relationship to what the things are like in real life", explains O'Neill.
The signs also build on one another to help convey the scientific relationships between the terms. The sign for mass, for example, is a fist which is then used as a basis for the sign for density (a hand around the fist) and weight (the hand and fist moving downwards).
Coincidentally, within minutes of spotting this story, I came across another bit of specialized sign language vocabulary. In a tweet, mjrobbins linked to a poster that provides everything you need to know to talk about a man's naughty bits in (I think) British Sign Language.
See the poster (NSFW, probably)
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.