Origin of "The Finger"

Dane Cook- The Finger

The Bird Is The Word

Rumor has it that during the Hundred Years' War, the French would cut off the middle fingers of the captured English archers so they couldn't use their bows. So as an act of defiance, when the English would be the victors in a battle, the archers would raise their middle fingers to show the French that their middle fingers were still intact. 

...This legend is also said of the V sign (V for victory) since the fore and middle finger are used in archery.

No Matter What You Call It:

Whether you call the simple act of extending out your middle finger "the bird," "flipping someone off," "flicking someone off," "giving the 'hi' sign,"or "shooting half a peace sign" or one of the many other lovingly choice words for the action. Regardless of what you call the finger motion, the message it expresses translates pretty clear and simple, not to mention direct. That statement you are throwing out, usually in someone's direction is intended to mean "fuck you" or "fuck off".  

Sometimes we find it necessary to use both hands, or actually both sets of middle fingers for what could be called....um...punctuation. This action is sometimes known as the "double-barreled salute".

But Where, Why And When Did This Really Harmless Gesture Start To Become Offensive? How Is It That "The Finger" Hasn't Lost Its Meaning, Through The Passage Of Time?

I don't think anyone is really certain of the origin of "the finger" as an offensive gesture. It is very possible that "the finger" is thousands of years old. According to what I have read in researching it. "The finger" can be traced back as far as Ancient Roman writings. Where it is identified as the digitus impudicus or the "impudent finger."  Reference is even made to using "the finger" in an Ancient Greek comedy to insult another person. So,it is possible that the usage, and the message that you are trying to convey when you are exposing "the finger" is in a sense "unverisal."  Since so many cultures were influence by the Roman Empire and Greco-Roman civilization.

Another theory of the gesture's possible origin maybe found in first-century Mediterranean culture, where extending the middle finger was believed to protect from the threat of the curse of the evil eye.

Or, could "the finger's" possible origin be based in phallic imagery? Since the middle finger is the longest finger on the human hand?

Different Countries, Different Fingers?

Sometimes in the UK, Ireland, Australia, India and New Zealand; the V sign, is given, with back of the hand towards the unweilding victim. I thought this meant "go in peace!" but I guess the message is the same as giving "the bird." Just to change it up "the finger" is sometimes used as well.

I am told in Iran don't give the thumb-up... Bill Clinton, "the Fonz" and most NASCAR racers would be so screwed.

I've read that in some African and Caribbean countries, the gesture is extending all five digits with the palm facing forward, meaning "you have five fathers."... I guess what I believed was a term of endearment growing up is an insult...This gesture calling someone a bastard. 

The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate Award....Goes to...

Flying Fickle Finger Of Fate Award

Whether called the Rigid Digit, the Winged Weenie, Wonderful Wiggler, Friendly Phlange, or the Nifty Knuckle.

The weekly award presented by comedians Dan Rowan and Dick Martin on the classically hip late 60s, early 70s weekly comedy show ROWAN & MARTIN'S LAUGH-IN for the dumbest/craziest news item of the week.

The award was a silver and gold colored hand with the forefinger pointing slightly upwards, two small wings adorned the index finger mounted on a trophy base. The award kind of moved in what can be described as a "Whoopee!" circular motion.

Recipients of this "uncoveted" award included then Los Angeles Chief of Police, Ed Davis who suggested that "gallows" be put in all airports for the hijackers. So when the hijackers were apprehended they could be hung on the spot. The City of Cleveland, Ohio for the Cuyahoga River catching fire due to its high pollution levels. William F. Buckley for his philosophy "Never clarify tomorrow, what you can obscure today."

Most awards went to the Pentagon. They won five times!

Surfin' Bird (Bird is the Word) by the Trashmen performed by Blink 182

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Flipping the Bird
Flipping the Bird
Flipping the Bird

The Legal History Of Giving The Finger

1977: A state appeals court in Connecticut overturns the conviction of a high school student who gave the finger to a state trooper from the back of his school bus. The officer had stopped behind the bus at a red light.

1980: Police arrest a contractor in Hammond, Louisiana after he paints a 30-foot-high image on a supermarket wall of Mickey Mouse flipping the bird with the caption, "Hey Iran!"

1983: A Texas court upheld a breach of the peace conviction against a student who flipped off his principal during graduation.

1990: In the case of an Arizona man pulled over in 1987 for flipping off a cop, a federal court rules that "no matter how peculiar, abrasive, unruly or distasteful a person's conduct may be, it cannot justify a police stop unless it suggests that some specific crime has been, or is about to be, committed." It also ruled, "We cannot condone Duran's conduct; it was boorish, crass and, initially at least, unjustified. Our hard-working law enforcement officers surely deserve better treatment from members of the public. But disgraceful as Duran's behavior may have been, it was not illegal; criticism of the police is not a crime."

1990: When a patrol helicopter hovers 800 feet over a home in Oceanside, California, the owner grabs a flashlight, aims it at the chopper and flips off the officers. Minutes later, a dozen officers converge on the home, hogtie him and arrest him and his wife. The prosecutor refuses to press charges against the couple, who later win $300,000 in damages.

1991: Police arrest a driver who gave the finger to Santa Claus as he speaks to a girl and her parents in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Santa turns out to be an off-duty cop.

1995: Jimmie Wayne Jeffers (right), being executed in Arizona for killing his ex-girlfriend in 1976, flips the bird to the warden after being strapped in for his lethal injection. According to witnesses, it is still raised as he dies.

1996: Ohio and seven other states ban Bad Frog Beer because its label shows an amphibian with a webbed finger raised. The brewery argues that because the frog only had four fingers, it couldn't be raising the middle one.

1996: A judge in Mercer County, New Jersey who refused a defense request for a mistrial complains about the reaction of a public defender. "I observed an expression on her face of great anger," he writes. "At the time her left hand was raised and thrust toward the bench with her middle finger in a raised position."

1998: A jury awards a junkyard owner in Arkansas $4000 in damages against a state trooper who arrested him for flipping the bird as they passed on a county road. Earlier that year, the man's nephew had received a $2500 settlement after being arrested for flipping off a different cop.

1998: Police fined a Pennsylvania woman $25 for yelling "Fuck you!" and flipping off a flag worker. In 2000 the state supreme court reverses the fine, saying that the bird cannot be considered obscene, as required by state law. It rules, "It would be a rare person who would be turned on by the display of a middle finger or the language it represents."

2000: After being interrupted, a school board member in Allentown, Pennsylvania gives the finger to the board president. During his trial, the member argues his gesture had not been sexual, and therefore not obscene. But a tape of the meeting shows he'd later threatened to "put some Vaseline" on his bird. A judge fines him $100.

2001: An officer in Medley, Florida arrests a man on obscenity charges for two stickers he had placed on his pickup. One shows a foot-high Calvin of the Calvin & Hobbes strip sticking up his middle finger while he urinates on the names of the driver's ex-girlfriend, her husband and their daughter.

2001: An accused drunk driver asks a Pennsylvania judge to throw out the charge because the cop pursued her only after she flipped him off. An appeals court rules in her favor.

2001: Robert Coggin allegedly gives the finger to a slow driver on a San Antonio highway. The driver calls police, and Coggin spends $15,000 over the next two years to get the $250 fine reversed. An appeals court rules that the digitus impudicus ("impudent finger") is protected speech, especially if its target is not "violently aroused."

2002: A woman representing herself at trial in Calgary, Alberta for reckless driving apologizes to the judge for rolling her eyes and flipping off witnesses who testify against her.

2003: School officials in Waterloo, Ontario suspend a 12-year-old after he gives the finger during the class portrait. "I didn't even realize that my middle finger was sticking out," he claims. His mother says of school officials: "They're not anthropologists. They can't look at a picture and determine someone's intentions."

2003: A judge in Dallas sentences a mechanic to 30 days in jail for contempt after he flips her off during jury selection. The man had ignored her instructions to answer questions verbally rather than by nodding his head.

2003: Five people in the audience at a city council meeting in Chandler, Arizona file a police report after a retired stockbroker gives the council a double-finger salute. They want him charged with disorderly conduct. The retiree, who said he felt the mayor and police had been heckling him, said, "I didn't think it was a crime to give someone the finger."

2004: An American Airlines pilot, irritated that officials at Sao Paulo airport had fingerprinted and photographed him, flipped the bird into the camera (right). Police arrested him for disobeying authority, and a judge fined him $13,000 for "his insult to Brazil's national pride and the federal police."

2006: Police ticketed a motorist in Colchester, England for giving the finger to a camera designed to catch speeders, even though he was driving under the speed limit. The ticket read that Simon Thompson had "used offensive hand gestures toward police in full view of passing public for three to four seconds." Thompson explained, "I wasn’t giving the officers the finger. I was aiming my anger at the camera."

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Comments 17 comments

bgpappa profile image

bgpappa 7 years ago from Sacramento, California

Very interesting hub.


BrianS profile image

BrianS 7 years ago from Castelnaudary, France

Speed cameras were and are not popular in the UK, I can well imagine someone giving it the finger. Been tempted myself a few times especially in open country or on dual carriage ways where they still have the cheek to call them safety cameras.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 7 years ago

Fascinating story. Another hand gesture you might tackle is the A-OK or "all clear" signaled by making a circle with the thumb and forefinger while extending the other three fingers. Somewhere I recall hearing that this OK signal in the U.S. means "asshole" in Latin America and in several countries around the world.


St.James profile image

St.James 7 years ago from Lurking Around Florida Author

Ralph,

I have read about the "A-OK." sign. There are many different versions of "the sign" but when I wrote this it was getting a bit late and I was running out of steam.

BrainS,

Always a pleasure, and I know how you feel about "Safety cameras" Big Brother has traffic cameras where I live as well.

BG Pappa,

Glad that you stopped by. I'm happy knowing you take the time to read some of my swirling toilet of thoughts and research.


Julie-Ann Amos profile image

Julie-Ann Amos 7 years ago from Gloucestershire, UK

I love it! I knew about the archery thing, but lots of other useful bits in here.


Dink96 profile image

Dink96 7 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

Beautiful.  I love that this was preceded by your blog on the the assassinated Soviet writer.  I believe flipping the bird is covered under the following text. 

Bill of Rights Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

So, you can easily see why the courts have ruled why flipping off someone, even a member of law enforcement, is protected under Article 1 of the US Constitution. It's unfortunate that law enforcement doesn't have a basic understanding of the Constitution. (It would save us taxpayers A LOT of money.)


St.James profile image

St.James 7 years ago from Lurking Around Florida Author

Thank you Ladies!

I am a proud supporter of first Amendment Rights! ...and for 100 years' war veterans proudly showing that they still have their much needed archery finger.

Always a pleasure hearing from you.


C.A. Hubberpants profile image

C.A. Hubberpants 7 years ago from HubPages Lounge

WOW! What an awesome hub about flipping the bird! You really did your research well, and I had no idea there were so many interesting facts associated with this finger/hand gesture. Great job! I'd give you a thumbs up, but that appears to be an insult as well. I'll just click on the green one under your hub. ;)


St.James profile image

St.James 7 years ago from Lurking Around Florida Author

Thank you! I salute you (with more than one digit) for stopping by and taking time to read one of my useless factoids.


Lolo Sianipar profile image

Lolo Sianipar 7 years ago from Indonesia

like it! Thanks for make it clear for me.... :)


foxility profile image

foxility 7 years ago

I give you two thumbs up. There's something special about this hub but I just can't put my finger on it. I gotta go finger myse... wait that doesn't sound right.


hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 7 years ago from Oregon, USA

In Latin America & Italy it's the fist pushed upward abruptly, I think it signifies fisting someone up the you know where. Anyway. Nice collection of bird trivia.


St.James profile image

St.James 7 years ago from Lurking Around Florida Author

Don't forget, I believe it's Russia that just the middle finger isn't enough. They use their other hand to pull back on the extended appendage.

In another country extending the fore-finger in the same manner as you would the middle finger is the offensive act.

OF course there is the good old "read between the lines" and the "allow me to turn it up for you"

Thank You Lolo, Foxility, and Hot Dorkage, I salute all of you.


Amy G 7 years ago

Nice hub! New facts for me to regurgitate to people who love to flip it! I especially love the line about the 'double bird'! It really IS punctuation, same as when my daughter slams her door 26 times just so I know she's serious!

Thanks for the read!


St.James profile image

St.James 7 years ago from Lurking Around Florida Author

Amy G,

Thank you for stopping by. We all have the need to get our point across and whether it is an extra finger, or slamming doors, every sentence ends in puncuation... I think a door being slammed 26 times is much more offensive than a silent finger.


daveearley profile image

daveearley 7 years ago from Chicago, IL

Good find! I always just kind of laugh and shake my head when someone gives the finger. It's just kind of pointless. It's like getting mad, but not knowing what to do, but having to do something, so you just stick out your middle finger. "Take that!" LOL


St.James profile image

St.James 7 years ago from Lurking Around Florida Author

I understand. It's kinda like in movies when the bad guy runs out of bullets so he throws his gun at the good guy. "The Finger" really kinda falls under that category.

Thanks for throwing you finger in the ring Dave.

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