Loyal Cougars

Editorial: In Support of the ‘Y’ Hand Sign

Geoff makes the case for further use of the American Sign Language ‘Y’ among BYU fans.

Just over four years ago I posted this on CougarBoard:

Ok I was at Disneyland last week with my family (we got soaked by rain but lines were non-existent) and of course I was proudly donning my BYU hat. Well it seemed like every 50 feet or so I passed someone else with BYU gear on. (We Mormons do love us some D-Land). Anyhow we usually exchanged a “Go Cougs” as we passed but I was longing for something like a “Hook ’em Horns” hand signal too.

So I say we come up with one. What say you?

Here is one:

A “Y” that is basically a vertical hang loose sign with the thumb and pinky as the arms of the Y. It is a little like Hook Em Horns and like hang loose but not the same as either. It is easy to do and looks like a capital Y. (Update — It turns out that is the American sign language letter Y too so all the better)

I’m confident that others came up with the same idea prior to me over the years. For a school that is often referred as “the Y,” using the American Sign Language ‘Y’ is sort of a no-brainer option as a hand sign.

When I floated the idea then it was met with mixed reaction, and it still is receiving mixed reviews now. Some people love it and wonder why it hasn’t caught on sooner, and others hate it. (Reaction is similarly mixed among writers here at Loyal Cougars.)

It appears that for whatever reason the BYU Y hand sign is finally gaining some steam among Cougar Nation. As evidence, here is a picture of BYU’s Olympic darling, Kate Hansen, flashing the Y-sign for international cameras in recent weeks:

Kate Hansen Y Sign

Lots of similar Y-sign pictures from BYU fans are popping up on the web lately and it appears that the BYU student section now uses the Y hand sign as part of its “Whoosh Cecil” ritual for made free throws in the Marriott Center.

I’m stoked about it.

It’s not the shaka

As I understand it, the Y hand sign is not the shaka sign or hang loose symbol associated with the state of Hawaii. Rather, it is the American Sign Language letter “Y”. The difference is that the palm faces outward with the Y-sign, where it is turned toward yourself with the shaka.


Shaka sign

Comparing college hand signs

Sure, lots of schools have hand signs already. And it seems clear to me that the Texas “Hook ’em Horns” sign is the best of them all. But even as a late entry into the college hand sign pantheon, I believe the Y hand sign is a strong entry. Here are some of the things going for it:

  • It’s not used by any other schools already. (See Miami/Utah)
  • Sure, it is similar to the shaka sign; but with the high number of Polynesian players on the football team, that seems somehow fitting.
  • BYU is already known as “The Y”. BYU uses a Y on its fields, courts, uniforms, and fan gear. A true Y hand sign fits right in.
  • As hand signs go, it’s remarkably simple and elegant. In my book that places the Y-sign ahead of hand signs requiring two hands like the various O’s, U’s or W’s and ahead of complicated attempts at pitchforks, frogs or wolves as well.

Haters gonna hate

Some BYU fans hate the idea of a Y hand sign. That’s fine, and I have good news for them: No one is going to try to force them throw up a Y-sign. I’m sure there was a contingency of the Texas fan base that hated the Hook Em hand sign back when it first started getting popular.

For the rest of you, the next time you are at Disneyland or you are walking through an airport far from Utah and you see someone sporting BYU gear, I recommend you flash them the Y-sign in solidarity. The world is our campus, and a quick Y-sign could be a nice way to greet a fellow Cougar far from home.


  1. John

    February 25, 2014 at 8:39 am

    I love it! The shaka sign has Mormon roots, anyway.

    • Jeff IsStupid

      February 25, 2014 at 9:50 am

      That’s an incredibly stupid idea. If you have to put a graphic in explaining the difference then the resemblance is too close.

      • Geoff Johnston

        February 25, 2014 at 10:36 am

        Uh, no one is denying a resemblance to the shaka. The arguments are:

        1) The shaka is not the symbol of any other college
        2) The shaka reportedly has Mormon roots anyway
        3) BYU is a Polynesian-heavy program to begin with so the resemblance isn’t really a problem

  2. PMark

    February 25, 2014 at 11:38 am

    I think it’s a great idea. Y not?

  3. Thomas Orrock

    February 25, 2014 at 11:45 am

    I like it. I moved to Texas 4 years ago and work with a lot of UT, A&M, and Texas Tech grads and in very short order someone asked me what BYU’s sign was. They were very surprised to hear that we didn’t have one. As strange as it may be for some BYU grads, it’s very normal in many other places. Even the small schools around here have hand signs.

  4. Mack

    February 25, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    Isn’t Texas A &M’s hand sign the same thing. (The Aggies)

    • Seth Robins

      February 27, 2014 at 9:34 am

      No, it is a thumbs up for “gig ’em” When A&M played TCU along time ago, their president said “Gig ’em” when referring to the football team beating the frogs. The thumbs up represents the way someone in Texas would hold a spear as they “gig” frogs, which is essentially impaling them with the spear when they hunt frogs.

      By the way, I think this is an awesome idea! I love it!

  5. mbyronm@gmail.com

    February 25, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    @Mack. no, A&M uses a “thumbs up” sign that goes along with their phrase “Gig ’em”

  6. mbyronm

    February 25, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    great idea

  7. mdd

    February 25, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    Honestly, if you get the athletes to start doing it – that’s where it will take off. I saw the U players flashing the U sign long before I saw any of the fans doing it.

    • IdoROCtheY

      February 26, 2014 at 2:49 pm

      Jammal Williams flashed it after a TD this past fall!

      • Seth Robins

        February 27, 2014 at 9:36 am

        True. If I remember correctly, K.O. Keialaluhi did it (probably more in reference to his Hawaiian roots) and it seems like I have seem either Harvey, Manase, and/or Fui do it previously as well. It only makes sense for the reasons described above.

  8. CalCoug

    February 25, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    I love it too! I’m in.

  9. Dave_24

    February 26, 2014 at 6:53 am

    My wife, myself and my brothers have been doing this at least the past five years…not to take credit. However, we also do the Y sign at the end of the fight song.

    • Geoff Johnston

      February 26, 2014 at 9:00 am

      Yep, it fits so intuitively with BYU it is mostly a wonder that it hasn’t become more widely adopted already.

  10. bublnet

    February 26, 2014 at 10:15 am

    Who cares, flash the sign its awesome. I saw the ROC do it the other night during free throws. I’m surprised it hasn’t taken off before. Who cares if people think it means hang loose or its the Y. Its a lot better than the finger salute we get from U fans.

  11. blibby8

    February 26, 2014 at 10:50 am

    UTSA is rocking it too….

  12. blibby8

    February 26, 2014 at 10:54 am

    • Seth Robins

      February 27, 2014 at 9:38 am

      Good point. It is quite similar, although the way they currently use it and the way the “y” sign is suggested being used are different enough.

      • Brett Hein

        March 2, 2014 at 10:51 pm

        Right. Saw it first hand at the New Mexico Bowl. UTEP fans make the Y sign, but then chop it like the tomahawk chop — so it’s supposed to look like the a miner’s pick.

  13. david rowley

    February 26, 2014 at 11:41 am

    Love it. Way cooler than anything else out there. I’m with ya Geoff!

  14. Dr G

    February 26, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    Being from the old SWC territory where every school had a hand sign, this makes sense. Perhaps this is a requirement for entrance into the B12+? 🙂

  15. Harold

    February 26, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    Why not just use the index finger and the middle finger spread apart to make a Y. It’s a whole easier too!

    • Seth Robins

      February 27, 2014 at 9:39 am

      Because that is a peace sign and not the ASL sign for /y/.

      • Brett Hein

        March 2, 2014 at 10:52 pm

        And it’s already used by USC — the Victory V

  16. Evan

    February 26, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    As a Cougar and a Longhorn alum, I love this idea. Hook ’em and Gig ’em still are better than ‘Go Cougs’ if nothing else for the way they roll of the tongue, but I love the hand sign.

    • Seth Robins

      February 27, 2014 at 9:48 am

      I worked at A&M, uncanny, but intriguing campus culture. You’re right! There is nothing like their spirited enthusiasm for football and their slogans.

      There was a great country song that I heard on the radio once in College Station about a mother A&M alum and a father UT alum that wanted their son to pick one or the other of the schools for his education. In typical country fashion it has a humorous surprise ending. It was a funny song. Only Central Texans, or people that lived there, could really appreciate it, I suppose.

  17. Brenden Taylor

    March 1, 2014 at 9:19 pm

    So the reasoning is that we need a sign because so many other universities have one? That certainly sounds like an inferiority complex. Personally I’ve never cared what other colleges are doing, and that fact that everyone else may have a sign is about the weakest reason I can think of to suppose we need one for BYU, too. When a tradition grows spontaneously on it own accord, fine, but when you have to organize a campaign to sell the idea just so that we can be like everyone else–I’m not interested.

    • Geoff Johnston

      March 3, 2014 at 11:16 am

      “So the reasoning is that we need a sign because so many other universities have one?”


      Did you read the post? The main reasons are because they are fun and even useful. The good news is that the Y sign is already organically gaining steam.

  18. CP

    March 4, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    How does something organically gain steam? Add this sign right next to “another cougar first down” to add to the long list of things to mock BYU fans with.