Date of Award

Spring 2021

Degree Type




Director of Thesis

Brett Sherman

First Reader

Anne Bezuidenhout

Second Reader

Anne Bezuidenhout


In 2017, a group of users on the website 4chan attempted to establish a new meaning of the common “OK” hand gesture. Claiming the sign meant “white power” the intention of this act was to trick left-leaning internet users and the media that an innocuous sign was racist, hence turning everyone unaware against them. A common narrative surrounding the situation was that the new meaning for the gesture as established by this group was a “hoax”. This situation serves as an interesting case study into understanding how we mean things by the use of signs. I will argue that the new meaning as established by the 4chan users is not a hoax. First, I will make a connection between signs like the OK gesture and dogwhistles. I will then label signs like the gesture “quasi-dogwhistles”. Then, I will argue against the new meaning being a hoax by appealing to an intentionalist theory of meaning. Intentionalism states we mean things by intending to change other’s psychological states and we change other’s psychological states by making them aware of our intention to do so. By appealing to the natural and non-natural meaning distinction as found in Grice’s introductory paper of intentionalism, I will demonstrate the multiple ways we can deny the fact that the quasi-dogwhistle’s meaning is a hoax. Finally, I will emphasize the roles natural and social meanings play in our understanding of public discourse.

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© 2021, Clyde LeMoine