A table of signs used during hours of silence by the sisters in the Syon Monastery in Isleworth, Middlesex, in the 15th century:
Ale — Make the sign of drink and draw thy hand displayed before thine ear downward.
Bed — Make the sign of a house and put thy right hand under thy cheek, and close thine eyes.
Book — Wag and move thy right hand in manner as thou shouldest turn the leaves of a book.
Cheese — Hold thy right hand flatways in the palm of thy left.
Cold — Make the sign of water trembling with thy hand or blow on thy forefinger.
Drink — Bow thy right forefinger and put it on thy nether lip.
Eating — Put thy right thumb with two forefingers joined to thy mouth.
Girdle — Draw the forefingers of either hand round about thy middle.
Glass — Make the sign of a cup with the sign of red wine.
Incense — Put thy two fingers into thy two nostrils.
Mustard — Hold thy nose in the upper part of thy right fist and rub it.
Salt — Fillip with the right thumb and forefinger over the left thumb.
Sleeping — Put thy right hand under thy cheek and forthwith close thine eyes.
Water — Join the fingers of thy right hand and move them downward droppingly.
Giraldus Cambrensis, describing the monks of Canterbury in 1180, wrote that they were “so profuse in their gesticulations of fingers and hands and arms, and in the whisperings whereby they avoided open speech, wherein all showed a most unedifying levity and license,” that he felt as if he were sitting “at a stage play or among a company of actors or buffoons: for it would be more appropriate to their Order and to their honourable estate to speak modestly in plain human speech than to use such a dumb garrulity of frivolous signs and hissings.”