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View Full Version : origins of the British two finger insult?


Abe
03-29-2000, 12:24 AM
in
http://www.straightdope.com/columns/980904.html

cecil confirms our suspicions that the pathetic little story about frenchmen failing to cut off the middle finger of English soldiers so they could not draw the longbow is false.

That is, it's false if we regard it as the origins of the "finger". Recently I have heard people using the exact same story to account for the origins of the "V" sign, a traditional British insult, not to be confused with the victory sign. The insulting gesture consists of flipping the index and middle finger upwards with the fingernails facing the target.

So, what are the origins of this gesture? I have a difficult time believing the story of Agincourt circa 1415, but it makes more sense for that tale to be the origin of the "two finger salute" than the finger. After all, you need those two fingers to fire a longbow (as opposed to just the middle finger), and this would explain why this insult is common only to the British.

Any sensible explanations will be most welcome.


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Abe

IDIOT, n. A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling.
--Ambrose Bierce

MrWhy
03-29-2000, 01:06 AM
I don't know about the origin of the gesture, but to correct you on a minor point; the two finger gesture is very common here in Australia too.

I have also seen it during my travels to Hong Kong and Singapore.

But then, all these places were Britich Colonies. But then agin, so was the U.S. and you don't seem to have it there.

crackwise
03-29-2000, 01:07 AM
Abe, I can't say I will be the bringer of the light, but I had British friends tell me that the two-fingered insult you are referring to did indeed come from the practice of the French of cutting off those two fingers of British archers who were captured.

I've repeated the tale to others, and would be delighted to know if I am wrong so I can tell the REAL story.

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~handcrafted signatures since 1975~

Abe
03-29-2000, 01:37 AM
You're right, I neglected to mention that the two finger sign is also present in Australia. It is non-existent in Hong Kong however (although it might have been present at one time) and I did not see it in Singapore, although I may have missed it.
http://www.snopes.com/spoons/faxlore/pluckyew.htm

The above link explains why it is extremely unlikely that the French would take archers prisoners. It also explains that no records exist to support the finger-cutting story.

But it doesn't discount it. I find the story very unlikely and nonsensical, and I would opt towards a more "digitus impudicus" type of explanation. The two fingers might have originated as a sexual gesture, perhaps related to the "horns" you find in places such as Italy to indicate a cuckold.

Abe

Boris B
03-29-2000, 02:51 AM
The explanation I heard of the British two-finger insult was slightly different, but perhaps no more plausible. It was that the English used to cut the first and second fingers off the hands of young Scotsmen to prevent them taking up the bow. So it was a way for a Scotsman to say to an Englishman, "Look, yuh haven't got me yet!"

As for the taking prisoners bit, I don't think these were necessarily prisoners being cut up. It was said to have been done as a preventative measure. Maybe they wanted to keep harmless Scotsmen around as manual laborers or something. Anyway, it's just a rumor.

matt_mcl
03-29-2000, 08:24 AM
THAT IS THE EXACT SAME... (whack) Sorry. That is the exact same bloody story as the French at Agincourt story, just transposed one country to the north. Anyway, Canada is a former British colony too and the V sign is nonexistent here (except among recent British immigrants, obviously.) Anyway, I'd always heard (facetiously) that it really was the finger with one for your mother, too!

Andy
03-29-2000, 08:31 AM
Whatever the origin, remember how and how not to ask for two beers in a noisy bar in the UK ;).

Jinx
03-29-2000, 09:21 AM
...not to be confused with the victory sign. The insulting gesture consists of flipping the index and middle finger upwards with the fingernails facing the target...[/B][/QUOTE]

You might recall the stink when Pres. Bush visited Australia. Walking down the steps from Airforce One, he gave the "V" sign with the palm facing him. The Australians were quite insulted!

"With the fingernails facing the target"...is this the same as your palm facing you? Or, am I picturing it wrong? Was this "protocol" even true in Churchill's day?

So, if I ask for two beers in a British pub, my palm should face away from me? Of course, it begs to be asked: Then what message am I telling myself if the fingernails face me? ;)



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"They're coming to take me away ha-ha, ho-ho, hee-hee, to the funny farm where life is beautiful all the time... :)" - Napoleon IV

handy
03-29-2000, 10:15 AM
I saw a literal translation of it on the net as 'up your bum'. I forgot the site URL but it was how to insult people in foreign languages.

VileOrb
03-29-2000, 11:04 AM
When I have observed this gesture (mostly in London) the index finger was usually slightly forward of the middle. I have seen a bunch of pictures of punk rocker types flashing the gesture at the camera and these pictures further accentuated the index finger forward thing. I always thought that it was a combination of the the middle finger gesture with an index finger pointing at the subject - thereby accentuating the "you" part of the message. This gesture says "f-YOU!" rather than just "f-you". I think the pointing part has gotten sloppier over time and the gesture has taken on a resemblance to the "Victory" gesture of other countries. This is all just my WAG but, I think, a reasonably likely one.

don Jaime
03-29-2000, 12:27 PM
Desmond Morris, an English zoologist, writes a little about human body language and gestures. I think it was in "Bodytalk" that he talked about this. He claims its a variation on the middle finger flipoff favored in the USA, and is a symbolic phallus. Why two fingers were needed for this, I don't know, and I don't recall him saying.

don Jaime

Lawrence
03-29-2000, 09:06 PM
The British two-finger insult is quite clearly a descendent of the digitus impudicus. Desmond Morris explains this thoroughly.

Interestingly enough, when Churchill gave the so-called "V-for-Victory" sign, he also did it with the hand facing outward in the "Fuck you" sign. (If you don't believe me, in the Weekly Standard's Person of the Century article on Churchill, they showed a photo of him with a huge cigar in his mouth giving the "V" sign palm inward.) Morris demonstrates that the palm inward "V" meant "Fuck you" as early as the First World War and that all British soldiers must have known what it meant.

I think it's pretty clear that Churchill was telling Hitler to go fuck himself and that he was able to think of a patriotic context to euphemize the real meaning of the symbol. Obviously, the British people also knew what it really meant, and enjoyed cocking a snook at the Nazis by flashing the sign.

2sense
03-29-2000, 10:56 PM
Hello Abe:

Good topic. I learned a lot.

Do you know anything about the peace sign?
I heard somewhere that Einstien started it.
That is was symbolic of his "2%" World Peace ideas.

It would be a great story, if true.

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Just putting my 2sense in.
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Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered.

-Thomas Paine (fugitive slave catcher)

Slithy Tove
03-29-2000, 11:22 PM
I concur with with don Jaime and Lawrence in their Desmond Morris cites: however, the gesture according to Morris is labial rather than phallic in origin. Morris also illustrates the Arabic variation of the "fig;" the tip of the thumb protruding between the knuckles of the index and middle fingers from the fist, as a simulacrum of the entrance of a penis into some awful Arabic orfice. An older version of the ubiquitous North American "finger" was the middle finger extended in the familiar "bird" salute, combined with the thumb and index finger making an opening and closing "OK" gesture. For this I cite James Jones in "From Here to Eternity," where the post-Pearl Harbor attack soldiers use this gesture to respond to the heartfelt waves from civilians who'd scorned them as low-lives just days before.

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Your deep sea diving suit is ready, me brave lad.

tomndebb
03-30-2000, 12:27 AM
I always figured the Brit gesture was the two-tined way of saying "fork you."

I'm not sure about the "peace" hand gesture. Just to have the link in place in case we wander in that direction, Cecil addressed the "Peace Symbol" in What is the origin of the peace symbol? (http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a2_149.html)

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Tom~

Abe
03-30-2000, 05:44 AM
I suppose the Victory sign has the origins in the letter V! Although I have to point out that the V sign is also a traditional gesture of some countries, such as Serbia. And Serbia was one of the strongest allies of the West during both World Wars... makes me wonder if the Serbs didn't start the entire V sign trend. I have no idea what the origins of the Serbian variation of the V sign are (from what I understand, the Serbian V sign is a patriotic gesture).

As for the "fuck you" two finger sign, thank you everyone who pointed out Desmond Morris and the possibly vaginal origins of this gesture (can't believe his books did not spring to my mind--I think he explains gestures in "Manwatching"). It sounds more plausible that the Agincourt proposition, but it still does not seem like the ideal explanation, and it does not account for the flipping hand motion that is made with this insult (although that could be a later stylistic development).

Does anyone have any other plausible explanations? My copy of "Manwatching" is on another continent. Also, does anyone know if this two finger fuck you gesture has a name?

Abe

bahoo
11-04-2010, 10:57 AM
ok...here is my theory...this gesture is done only while taking a picture....why???

photograph taking had its origin at carnivals in the U.S. and Canada...."have you picture taken !!!!!.....with an Indian (native)!!!! So....folks would have their picture taken with an Indian...it was the attraction of the time......a schtick to sell a photo if you will....So....by putting two fingers over someone's head...you deemed the victim "the Indian" in the picture....it was the gag....

I also think say "Cheese" comes from the same origin...as Indians were known to not smile in the pictures...(making a few cents as the "freak" in the picture was nothing to smile about....the photographer trying to get the Indian to smile would say, "Cochise"....(famous Apache Chief)...hoping the indian would crack a smile...eventually the white man would say, "Say Cheese".....a mangled version of "Cochise".....

What do y'all think??? Plausible???

bahoo,
Montreal, Canada

SanVito
11-04-2010, 11:55 AM
When I have observed this gesture (mostly in London) the index finger was usually slightly forward of the middle. I have seen a bunch of pictures of punk rocker types flashing the gesture at the camera and these pictures further accentuated the index finger forward thing. I always thought that it was a combination of the the middle finger gesture with an index finger pointing at the subject - thereby accentuating the "you" part of the message. This gesture says "f-YOU!" rather than just "f-you". I think the pointing part has gotten sloppier over time and the gesture has taken on a resemblance to the "Victory" gesture of other countries. This is all just my WAG but, I think, a reasonably likely one.

Nah, you're reading too much into it. It's just two fingers stuck up in the air in the shape of a V.

Try holding your two fingers up in the same gesture your index finger naturally sits slightly in front of your middle finger. It's not a deliberate pointing action.

Ximenean
11-04-2010, 12:05 PM
Is this a resurrection record? More than ten years between posts...