The symbolic gesture of a middle finger

Where did it originate and how did it come to mean “fuck you”?

Maybe because it’s phallic?

The first person to seriously suggest the “pluck yew” fable gets hit in the face with a fish.

Carry on.

Cecil’s column: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1279/whats-the-origin-of-the-finger

Here’s what I read:

“The finger symbolizes the erect penis and the other digits represent the testicles on either side of it. . . .
This is one of the oldest of all obscene hand gestures and was particularly popular in ancient Rome, where it was known as the digitus impudicus– the ‘indecent finger.’”
Morris, Desmond. Bodyguards p. 188
Of course, ol’ Des has been known to make stuff up. I wouldn’t argue with someone who had a better cite.

It looks like a penis and balls. And, of course, the French used to draw the strings of their bows with their penises.

I haven’t known des to make things up – his errors are of omission, not comission.

I believe hiom to be right in this case – there are many things thaty bolster that interpretation. But, to be truthful, I don’t myself have a cite for “digitus impudicus”. Morris should have cited it somewhere (he uses it in at least three of his books), but, of course, he doesn’t. Typical Morris omission.
Edited to add: Apparently it’s in this book, J.N. Adams’ Latin Sexual Vocxabulary : http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=GDP9VHGbF1AC&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&dq=“digitus+impudicus”&ots=_Rv-PSBy8U&sig=j5_y9mfUloVfXMVcOqR0R1zNfOQ#PPA254,M1

And what’s up with the British using two fingers? Do they have two penises?

i think you only have speculation to go on here – I’m not sure what would constitute a definite answer.
IIRC, Morris, in one of his first books (The Human Zoo, I think, not The Naked Ape, although I might be wrong) speculates quite a bit about the middle finger gesture and related gestures. His suggestion was that the spread fingers indicated a single organ of width equal to the spread – essentially “fuck you with a penis this big!”

If you think that’s outrageous, he holds that the Fist-Up-Arm-Bent-At-Elbow-with-hand-slapping-inside-of-the-Elbow signifies “fuck you with a penis the size of my forearm rammed in to the hilt”.

Makes sense to me. In any event, I have nothing better to suggest.

No, but they have an “arse” which the rest of us apparently don’t.

But “pluck yew” notwithstanding, legend has it that when English archers were captured by the French, they’d get their 2 bowstring-drawing fingers chopped off. So demonstrating that these 2 fingers were still intact became a gesture of defiance.

One of my professors has written a law review article with a lengthy discussion of the history of the “middle finger” gesture, as well as others with similar meaning. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=982405#

Is there anything better than legend to back this up?

I read somewhere that Diogenes of Sinope once studied how a man’s temperment changed when he was shown (flipped) the middle finger. For some reason, I credit Diogenes with being the* father of the bird*, but I could be wrong.

The legend itself is of rather recent origin. I know of no version earlier than the late 20th century.

That’s pretty interesting all by itself. I would have thought you were going to say you knew of no version earlier than October 23, 2008. :slight_smile:

I came into this thread just to say that.

The finger, or something close to it, comes from 350 or so B.C.

*“Most people, he would say, are so nearly mad that a finger makes all the difference. For if you go along with your middle finger stretched out, some one will think you mad, but, if it’s the little finger, he will not think so” (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Book 6, Chapter 35). *

http://www.iep.utm.edu/d/diogsino.htm

I think it’s sad that we, as a species, are so uncreative that we have to use our own body parts to offend someone. There wouldn’t be such a taboo on our privates or threads like “what should my 2 year old call her vagina,” if we didn’t use these words in a derogatory manner. Are we so stupid that we can’t use regular words to describe our frustruation? I think it’s stupid that fuck, dick, cocksucker, whatever are our “swear words.” Why is this? Wouldn’t you like it if your girlfriend was a cocksucker? Wouldn’t it be good if she would fuck you?

Sorry, I’m in a bad mood. I just think that people only swear because they’re so stupid that they can’t win an argument otherwise.

I’ve heard this but my gut feeling has always been that the two fingers form the shape of a womans genitalia as seen from the front.

So its more likely that you’re calling the man a cunt.

Interestingly for many decades I and everyone I knew have used the V sign as a deadly insult but until recently none of us knew the reason WHY it was a deadly insult, just that it was.

I believe that the two finger gesture reversed was used in WW2 (especially by Winston Churchill*) to mean ‘V for Victory’.

Since there is danger of confusion between insult and celebration, all English schoolchildren are taught precisely how to do both gestures. (It’s part of the Political Correctness and Sociology curriculum.)

*possibly a ficticious character, who makes a brief appearance in the fine WW2 film ‘The Eagle has landed’…