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American Sign Language: "worse" or "worst"

The sign for "worse" uses "K" handshapes.



Sentence: What is your worst class?



MULTIPLY:  If you use a single movement and no facial expression the sign "worse"can mean "times" or "multiply" as in 10 times 6 equals 60.


FIGURE-OUT:  The sign worse can be modified even more to mean "figure out." "Figure out" uses a double movement and it is usually smaller movement than used for the sign "worse."  Also, the sign "figure out" uses a "contemplative" and/or "thinking hard" type of facial expression.





In a message dated 12/8/2012 8:51:17 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, Jeanette writes:
Dr. Bill,
I have question regarding the sentence "YOU THINK MEN WORSE JEALOUS THAN WOMEN?" That means men are "more" jealous. I'm confused because why couldn't we sign MORE jealous? Do we only sign MORE in regards to wanting "more" of something and things like that?  I think of "worse" as a person being bad at something.  For example i would say "YOU THINK MEN WORSE COOK THAN WOMEN?" -- but I'm assuming that's not in the right concept.
Take Care,

Dear Jeanette,
To understand the usage differences between WORSE and MORE (in ASL) it helps to explore some of the signs that are closely related to the sign WORSE and to the sign MORE.
The sign WORSE has its roots in the sign MULTIPLY which is commonly known in English as "times" as in "Six times two is twelve." Thus the sign WORSE often has connotations of "compounded," "multiplied," and "more-so." It could even mean "on steroids" in some English usages of that phrase.

While the sign WORSE does indeed have many of the same meanings as the English word "worse" -- the two are not perfectly overlapping. I recall learning (many years ago) of a situation when two Deaf individuals were watching a broad-jumper compete. The competitor's second jump was farther than his first jump, whereupon one of the Deaf observers signed "WORSE!" (with an enthusiastic facial expression and a bit of a head nod). 

Obviously the competitor's jump was not "worse" in the English sense of the word "worse" but rather the jump was "more so" or "increased" beyond what it was previously. 

That is a "rare" example though of the usage of the sign "WORSE" from a time period before you were born. These days you are unlikely to see such a pure form of the "WORSE/MULTIPLY" sign applied in such a situation. Now you are more likely to see the signs "IMPROVE," "BETTER," or "INCREASE" used to describe an improvement in a broad-jump distance of a competitor. Still though, the example gives you a taste for the historical roots of the sign "WORSE." 

The sign WORSE actually based on the sign MULTIPLY. The two signs look almost alike.  The difference being mainly indicated via your facial expression.  For discussion purposes the two signs could be lumped together and called "MULTIPLY/WORSE" both of which use a "K" handshape and a single movement.

The sign MULTIPLY/WORSE is related to the sign FIGURE-out/MULTIPLICATION which uses a double movement.  The difference between "FIGURE-out" and MULTIPLICATION-[noun] is that "FIGURE-out" generally uses a "contemplative" facial expression (as if doing math in your head) whereas MULTIPLICATION uses a neutral facial expression.  (Thus "MULTIPLICATION" and "MULTIPLY" are a noun/verb (minimal) pair differing only in the number of repetitions.)

The sign MORE is related to the signs: ADD-to-(additional/extra), TOTAL-(altogether).  The MORE sign is linked to additional amounts of "things" or "stuff."

I would sign, "YOU WANT MORE POTATOES?" 

Would it be feasible for an English speaker to say, "The young man's feelings of fear and dread multiplied as he contemplated entering the haunted-looking mansion"?

Now, ask yourself, would it be okay for an English speaker to say the phrase, "The young girl's feelings of joy and happiness multiplied as the carefree days of summer passed by?"

The English word "multiplied" works in both of those sentences.

Since the sign WORSE is based on the sign "MULTIPLY" you can see how a Deaf signer might be inclined to use the WORSE/MULTIPLY sign when referring to physiological states of being or occurrences.

-- Dr. Bll


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