View Full Version : OT -- The History of the Middle Finger

Lynn Standish
01-20-2006, 12:47 PM
The History of Middle Finger

Well, now...... here's something I never knew before, and now that I know it I feel compelled to send it on to all of you in the hope that you, too, will feel edified.

Isn't history more fun when you know something about it?

Before the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the French, anticipating victory over the English, proposed to cut off the middle
finger of all captured English soldiers.

Without the middle finger it would be impossible to draw the renowned English longbow and therefore they would be incapable of fighting in the future.

This famous English longbow was made of the native English Yew tree, and the act of drawing the longbow was known as "plucking the yew" (or "pluck yew").

Much to the bewilderment of the French, the English won a major upset and began mocking the French by waving their middle fingers at the defeated French, saying, See, we can still pluck yew!

Since 'pluck yew' is rather
difficult to say, the difficult consonant cluster at the beginning has gradually changed to a labiodental fricative 'F , and thus the words often used in conjunction with the one finger salute!

It is also because of the pheasant feathers on the arrows used with the longbow that the symbolic gesture is known as "giving the bird."

01-20-2006, 01:07 PM
You sure that wasn't taken out of a Monty Python skit? Always a wealth of real or unreal history here.

01-20-2006, 01:17 PM
Hate to pop a bubble, but according to straight dope .com

Now for the facts. The "one-finger salute," or at any rate sexual gestures involving the middle finger, are thousands of years old. In Gestures: Their Origins and Distribution, Desmond Morris and colleagues note that the digitus infamis or digitus impudicus (infamous or indecent finger) is mentioned several times in the literature of ancient Rome. Turning to our vast classical library, we quickly turn up three references. Two are from the epigrammatist Martial: "Laugh loudly, Sextillus, when someone calls you a queen and put your middle finger out."

(The verse continues: "But you are no sodomite nor fornicator either, Sextillus, nor is Vetustina's hot mouth your fancy." Martial, and Roman poets in general, could be pretty out there, subject-matter-wise. Another verse begins: "You love to be sodomized, Papylus . . .")

In the other reference Martial writes that a certain party "points a finger, an indecent one, at" some other people. The historian Suetonius, writing about Augustus Caesar, says the emperor "expelled [the entertainer] Pylades . . . because when a spectator started to hiss, he called the attention of the whole audience to him with an obscene movement of his middle finger." Morris also claims that the mad emperor Caligula, as an insult, would extend his middle finger for supplicants to kiss.

It's not known whether one displayed the digitus infamis in the same manner that we (well, you) flip the bird today. In another of his books Morris describes a variety of sexual insults involving the middle finger, such as the "middle-finger down prod," the "middle-finger erect," etc., all of which are different from the classic middle-finger jerk. But let's not quibble. The point is, the middle-finger/phallus equation goes back way before the Titanic, the Battle of Agincourt, or probably even that time Sextillus cut off Pylades with his chariot. And I ain't kidding yew.


01-20-2006, 01:19 PM
And this according to Wikipedia, the encyclopedia online

The origins of this gesture are highly speculative, but is quite possibly 2500 years old. It is identified as the digitus impudicus ('impudent finger') in Ancient Roman writings and reference is made to using the finger in the Ancient Greek comedy The Clouds by Aristophanes. It was defined there as a gesture intended to insult another. It has been noted that the gesture resembles an erect penis.

Ancient Romans also considered an image of an erect phallus as a talisman against evil spells. As a consequence, displaying this gesture to another may not have been a pseudo-sexual insult but rather an insulting statement along the lines of—"I'm going to protect myself against your witchcraft, before you even start" but an even earlier reference is made to ancient farmers using this finger to test hens for coming eggs.

A popular but possibly apocryphal story that refers to the gestures of Welsh longbowmen fighting with the English (the Battle of Agincourt in particular is often mentioned). The French cut off fingers from captured archers (usually the index and middle finger of the right hand), and according to this tale the finger was a sign of defiance by those who retained their fingers, and thus could still shoot. An almost certainly apocryphal story is that "**** you" is a corruption of "pluck yew" since bows were made of yew, or the phrase "I can still pluck yew!"

This version was popularized by the Click and Clack Car Talk radio show. However aside from the inaccuracies there is considerable proof that the incident did not take place at the Battle of Agincourt.

Jean Froissart (circa 1337-circa 1404) was a historian as the author of the Chronicle, a document that is essential to an understanding of Europe in the fourteenth century and to the twists and turns taken by the Hundred Years' War. The Chronicle is a primary source of information. The story of the English waving their fingers at the French is told in the first person account by Jean Froissart. However, the description is not of an incident at the Battle of Agincourt, but rather at the siege of a castle near in the Hundred Years War. Adding to the evidence is that by all accounts Jean Froissart died before the Battle of Agincourt, thus making it rather difficult for him to have written about it.

Alistair Hosie
01-20-2006, 01:21 PM
As I understand it the middle finger bowman refference is correct but the pluck ewe is incorrect from a pheasent plucker or a pleasent phu---- that's not bad http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//biggrin.gifAlistair

01-20-2006, 01:32 PM
Speaking of Monty Python here is a very learned dissertation on the word "****" (audio only).

http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//biggrin.gif http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//biggrin.gif



01-20-2006, 02:43 PM
origins of ****-
for unlawfull carnal knowledge-

01-20-2006, 03:03 PM
The English/British gesture, supposedly dating back to Agincourt, is to raise TWO fingers (1st & 2nd) with the back of the hand towards the gesturee. You need both fingers to draw a bow.

Sadly this seems to be dying out rapidly, with the younger generation adopting what we old fogeys see as the uncouth American single finger. Interesting to learn that its origins might actually go back further than two fingers.


Alistair Hosie
01-20-2006, 03:29 PM
no one has yet tried to explain about the age old practice of the lifting of the middle leg http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//biggrin.gif http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//biggrin.gif http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//biggrin.gifAlistair

01-20-2006, 03:49 PM
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Timleech:
The English/British gesture, supposedly dating back to Agincourt, is to raise TWO fingers (1st & 2nd) with the back of the hand towards the gesturee. You need both fingers to draw a bow.

That's what I've always heard. That the equivalent gesture in the UK (and perhaps other parts of Europe) to the "one finger salute" is the index and middle finger raised from a fist with the back of the hand facing outward. It was a taunt to the French by British archers, as Timleech said, since captured British archers would have those two fingers amputated by the French.

I remember quickly correcting a coworker when we had gone to the UK on business - we walked into a pub and he leaned up to the bar and said "Give us 2 pints, please", while giving the old "archer's taunt". Fortunately, the bartender had a sense of humor and realized he wasn't meaning to offend.

I also read long ago that the word "f*ck" came from the very early evolution of the English language. There were two languages that were converging into what became English, one was considered the "high" dialect or language, and the other was considered "of the commoners". There was a word spelled f, u-with-two-dots-above, k. (For German speakers, f-umlaut-k, I think) Anyway, the word "fuk" spelled that way was from the "common" dialect and originally meant "to bang together".

I also thought it was interesting that the Brits, at least, say "arse", yet we Americans say "ass". Well, if you say "arse" with a British accent, it sounds pretty much like "ass" said with same accent.


01-20-2006, 03:56 PM
For an authoritative review of the etymolgy of the word **** see here:


01-20-2006, 04:13 PM
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Wirecutter:

I also thought it was interesting that the Brits, at least, say "arse", yet we Americans say "ass". Well, if you say "arse" with a British accent, it sounds pretty much like "ass" said with same accent.


Not with my accent it doesn't!

An ass is a donkey here http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//smile.gif
It seems that the meaning of the two is slightly different, the British version being rather ruder/less freely used.


Alistair Hosie
01-20-2006, 04:43 PM
why is the see you enn tee word the worst of all??serious question.Alistair

01-20-2006, 05:15 PM
Because it has no other possible alternate meanings. To quote George Carlin you can even say in a Walt Disney film "snatch the ***** and put it in a box".

Ack, wrong attribution.

[This message has been edited by Evan (edited 01-20-2006).]

Norman Warfield
01-20-2006, 05:21 PM
C an't U nderstand N ormal T hinking

This is perhaps what is so upsetting,'cause it sure gets them going when they hear it.

If it's not broken, why do I keep trying to fix it....

01-20-2006, 06:47 PM
"Frankly Scarlet..."

01-20-2006, 08:33 PM
According to my Russian teachers at DLI, the Russian version of the bird is the thumb tucked in between and through the first two fingers and they shake the fist at the intended. It's more of a literal gesture http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//smile.gif if you look at it.

I've always wondered at the origins of the bird and assumed it had started as a "up yours" gesture. (I have a long commute and need something to think about).

Alistair Hosie
01-21-2006, 10:43 AM
I call John Stevenson SON and he thinks it's cause I am older than him (WHICH I AINT) IT STANDS FOR Sherrif of Nottingham which he is.Alistair