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What’s the Real Meaning Behind Giving Someone ‘the Finger’? [POLL]


Chances are, if you are an adult and live on planet Earth, you have given or received “the middle finger.” Some people refer to it as getting “flipped off”,  “hung someone the rod” or my personal favorite the “double bird salute.” But do you really know what the origin is of this simple gesture that many Americans use on a daily basis?  

I did a little research on the internet using a search engine and this is what I was able to find:

Apparently a few years ago, an Urban Legend was being circulated via email that told of the story of the French anticipating victory over the English in the battle of Agincourt in 1415.  The French were planning to cut off the middle finger of all the captured English soldiers who were famous for their use of the longbow.  But alas the battle did not go as planned and most of the long bow shooters middles fingers remained intact, and so in defiance the English started giving the French “the middle finger”.  This story, which might have some truth to it, is not entirely factual.

When looking for historic evidence to support this story, I found none.  I also read in several articles history of Flipping the Bird actually dates all the way back to Ancient Rome, which would make the gesture 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.”

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.

So apparently, even back before “horseless carriages” there was still a need to flip people off.  Interesting, right?

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