General Question

AstroChuck's avatar

How long has the "middle finger" gesture been vulgar?

Asked by AstroChuck (37461points) August 14th, 2008 from iPhone

Has flippin’ the bird been around a long time? I remember seeing Kate Winslet giving the middle finger to someone in that stink of a movie Titanic and I wonder if this would’ve even existed then.

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11 Answers

augustlan's avatar

I’ve often wondered about things like that…also, who decided that a word or gesture is vulgar, or “bad” and what criteria did they use. Why was “poop” ok, but “shit” was not, etc.?

augustlan's avatar

Here is an answer, though.

El_Cadejo's avatar

“The origin of this gesture is speculative, and quite possibly thousands of years old. It is identified as the digitus impudicus (“impudent finger”) in Ancient Roman writings[1] 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 person. The widespread usage of the finger in many cultures is likely due to the geographical influence of the Roman Empire and Greco-Roman civilization. Another possible origin of this gesture can be found in the first-century Mediterranean world, where extending the digitus impudicus was one of many methods used to divert the ever present threat of the evil eye.[2]

Another possible origin is the phallic imagery of the raised middle finger (the middle finger being the longest finger on the human hand), similar to the Italian version of the bent elbow insult. Also, there is a variation of the finger where it can be done by performing The Fangul, by sticking out the finger during the throwing motion.”

cak's avatar

AstroChuck…I’m so new here, I’m day-glo green, but I gotta tell you, I like your questions! This one is something I’ve often wondered, but always forget to look up!

My new thing to learn today!

andrew's avatar

@astrochuck: Also, the whole middle finger gesture varies by culture, as the ol’ wristbreak software xwrits taught me.

Mtl_zack's avatar

i think it has to do with when a defender cought an archer, they would cut off his middle finger so he cant pull the arrow back, but if he escaped, he would run away with his fingers out gesturing “haha, i still have all my fingers”.

BarbieM's avatar

@Mtl_zack: That’s the version of the story that I heard too. I read an unverified article traced it to the Battle of Agincort when the British were greatly outnumbered by the French but still won. When asked to surrender early in the battle, they held up the middle fingers to the French. I’ve always wondered if it were true.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@mtl zack and BarbieM

From Wikipedia
“A popular urban legend incorrectly states that during the Hundred Years’ War, the French would cut off the middle fingers of captured English archers so they would be unable to use their bows, and that after the Battle of Agincourt, the victorious English showed the French that their middle fingers were still intact.”

andrew's avatar

@uberbatman: Isn’t that where the V “peace” sign came from, though?

El_Cadejo's avatar

Yup ^_^
from Wikipedia once again.

“The belief that the V sign originated among archers might have its origin in the work of the historian Jean Froissart (c. 1337-c. 1404). In his “Chronicles”, he recounts a story of the English waving their fingers at the French during a siege of a castle, however he makes no reference to which fingers were used.
According to a popular legend the two-fingers salute and/or V sign derives from the gestures of longbowmen fighting in the English army at the Battle of Agincourt (1415) during the Hundred Years’ War. The story claims that the French claimed that they would cut off the arrow-shooting fingers of all the English longbowmen after they had won the battle at Agincourt. But the English came out victorious and showed off their two fingers, still intact. Historian Juliet Barker quotes Jean Le Fevre (who fought on the English side at Agincourt) as saying that Henry V included a reference to the French cutting off longbowmen’s fingers in his pre-battle speech.If this is correct it confirms that the story was around at the time of Agincourt, although it doesn’t necessarily mean that the French practised it, just that Henry found it useful for propaganda, and it does not show that the ‘two-fingers salute’ is derived from the hypothetical behaviour of English archers at that battle.”

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