By Ken Glickman

Deaf* (pronounced as in clef; lipread as in safe; signed as in ear/closed) is probably one of the most colorful words in the English language. A pithy, four-letter word, it can be used to describe a person objectively, offensively, or optimistically. Because of its versatility in meaning, the word often finds its way into various expressions and idioms. Its raw packed power as an adjective stems directly from its one short syllable: its clout can be felt either when spoken and/ or signed quickly or when drawn out slowly and loudly (as the case often might be). As a testimony to its importance in English literature, an overspewing of its connotations is hereby listed as follows:

Expression of observation: I think he's deaf.
Expression of ignorance: He's deaf and dumb.
Expression of humor: No, he's deaf and bright.
Expression of love: Love is blind...and deaf.
Expression of denial: I am not deaf, I'm hard-of-hearing.
Expression of annoyance: Are you deaf or something?
Expression of realization: Am I getting deaf?
Expression of shock: He is deaf!?
Expression of apology: I'm sorry, I'm deaf.
Expression of stubbornness: She's deaf as hell!
Expression of refusal: Nah, he won't do it, he's deaf to it.
Expression of admission: I am deaf. I can't hear. (Often written on bottom of a Kleenex box in response to a cop's request for car license.)
Expression of craftiness: Should we pretend we are deaf?
Expression of joy: Guess what!? My new nephew is deaf!
Expression of confidence: I might be deaf, but...
Expression of camaraderie: See you at the deaf club.
Expression of hopelessness: My words fell on deaf ears.
Expression of doubt: He's not deaf, I think he's just foreign.
Expression of pride: I am DEAF!!!
Expression of timidity: I am deaf, is that ok with you?
Expression of transformation: Forget him, he's turned deaf.
Expression of "touch finish": (You have to be deaf to understand.)
Expression of disbelief: What?! Are you telling me deaf people can drive?
Expression of anxiety: Is...Is...Is my baby deaf?
Expression of warning: Don't you dare turn a deaf ear on me.
Expression of happiness: Happiness is being deaf and knowing you'll get a good night's sleep.
Expression of understanding: I may be deaf, but not to what you say.
Expression of opportunity: It's ok, Mommy's deaf, help yourself to another cookie.
Expression of anger: Dammit,isn't it because I'm deaf?
Expression of bliss: Good thing, I'm deaf.
Expression of caution: Pssst! She's deaf.
Expression of inquiry: You deaf?
Expression of affirmation: Yes, deaf, yes.
Expression of fate: Just my luck, my hearing-ear dog got sick, and now she's deaf.
Expression of wit: To hear the hands, you have to be deaf.
Expression of sheer delight: Deaf! I thought you were hearing!
Expression of surprise: Hearing! I thought you were deaf!
Expression of empathy: Deaf like me...
Expression of sensitivity: You're deaf, oops, I mean...YOU... CANNOT...HEAR,...RIGHT?
Expression of explanation: No, I am not a newspaper reporter, I am just deaf.
Expression of inconvenience: I'm deaf, does that bother you?
Expression of obliviousness: Oh my, he's deaf - dead to the world.
Expression of sarcasm: I am not deaf, I am just ignoring you.
Expression of relief: My teacher is deaf, too!
Expression of stupefaction: He is not deaf and he can sign!?
Expression of puzzlement: He can sign and he is not deaf?
Expression of wonder: He is deaf and he can talk!?
Expression of liberation: I am not hearing-impaired, I am deaf, and they are deaf-impaired.

* Deaf (def) adj. 1. Totally or partly incapable of hearing. 2. Unwilling or refusing to listen; heedless. (Old English deaf) - deafly adv. - deafness n.

[Source: Ken Glickman (1997) at You can purchase a poster of this definition via his website to support his work. ]

Re-Defining Deaf: a commentary.