The Sign I Love You of Sign Language: Meaning, Origin, Curiosities and Celebrities


Political leaders, athletes, artists, many people have used the sign of the American sign language ILY (I Love You) to express, more than anything, affection to their audience and that is reflected in a photo. Find out its meaning, origin, curiosities and some celebrities who have used it.

Obama using the American Sign Language sign ILY in a photo tweeted by the famous deaf model Nyle DiMarco in 2017

Meaning of the ILY Sign

ILY stands for "I Love You". The shape of these three letters can be represented with a single hand figure using their correspondence with the American Sign Language fingerspelling as can be seen here:

Shaping the ILY sign from its letters of the dactylological alphabet in American Sign Language (photo: CC BY-SA 3.0 by Johannes Kalliauer in Wikimedia)

The sign should not be confused with the so-called 'sign of the horns' or 'devil horns' commonly used in heavy metal music. It differs because the sign ILY also extends the thumb:

Origin of the ILY Sign

The sign 'I Love You' has an uncertain origin. It has been known to be used by Deaf students in the United States and has had a lot of media visibility since it was first used in 1976 by Richard Dawson, the presenter of the Family Feud television contest, in each episode. Therefore, its public use has been known for more than 40 years.

Richard Dawson (right), presenter of the Family Feud television contest using the ILY sign (foto: Game Show Network LLC)

Curiosities About the ILY Sign

In June 2017, Gene Simmons, a member of the music band Kiss, had the idea of patenting the gesture of the devil horns, which he executed with the same form of the sign ILY. He quickly abandoned the idea, as he encountered opposition from a large number of people, including Deaf people and the singer of the music band Coven, to whom they attribute the introduction of the devil horns, who criticized that "Gene does not even DO the sign properly. He is doing the deaf sign for 'love'".

Gene Simmons was criticized for not using the devil horns correctly (photo: Jeffery Chan / Metal Injection)

Also in 2017 🤟 was introduced as a universal emoji in version 5.0, so it can be used in Whatsapp, Facebook and other apps.

Celebrities Using the ILY Sign

The American Sign Language sign ILY has spread widely and, although it is not a universal sign, most Deaf people around the world realize it. Many famous people have used it before their public or fans, whether they were Deaf or not, possibly because among its qualities is the possibility of expressing affection in the still photo that appears in the media. These are some of them.

Bill Clinton (2012), former President of the United States (photo: Ap Photo / J. Scott Applewhite)

Bryce Harper (2016), professional baseball player (photo: Katherine Frey / The Washington Post)

Dalai Lama (2016), spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism (photo: Andy Cross / The Denver Post)

Isco (2017), professional footballer of Real Madrid (photo: Tuero-Arias)

Jaden Smith (2018), American actor and rapper, son of actor Will Smith (foto: BACKGRID)

Pope Francis (2015), Pope of the Catholic Church and Head of Vatican City (photo: Associated Press)


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