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The Origin of the Middle Finger Gesture

Updated on August 12, 2017
Tree Frog apparently having "one of those" days
Tree Frog apparently having "one of those" days

We've all done it, some more than others I'll admit. Everyone on the planet, no matter where they are from, understands what it means. Apparently, even frogs do it. The Middle Finger. While staring down the barrel of one of these just the other day, I had to stop and ponder the timeless questions, "Where did the Middle Finger come from?", "How did it come into existence and why"?

And so, I decided to write an article about my findings.

Proof that this gesture existed in ancient times
Proof that this gesture existed in ancient times

Grecian Roots

According to anthropologists, this gesture has been around for more than 2000 years. In ancient Greece, the first written record of this gesture tells a tale of a playwright Aristophanes who made a crude joke by mixing up the middle finger with his penis. Aristophanes was very popular back in his day and so from then on, in popular Greece culture the middle finger salute was known as a nasty phallic insult, and was not taken lightly.

Roman Roots

Apparently the Romans adopted this gesture from the Greeks along with everything else, in fact, the Roman emperor Caligula, who was known for perversely shocking his citizens, used to make them kiss his middle finger instead of his hand! One of his subjects, Cassius, who was quite often belittled for being too effeminate, was so fed up with the insult that he assassinated Caligula over it.


Latin Origin

In Latin, the middle finger was the "digitus impudicus", (and I'm most certainly going to use that phrase the next time someone gives me the salute)..The phrase means "shameless or indecent finger".

Modern Times

During the Middle Ages the gesture was still around of course, (else how would it be in use today?), but was regarded as so offensive the church forbid its use, and so had to remain 'underground' and was used only by unscrupulous characters.

It is believed that this gesture made it's way to America by way of Italian Immigrants, and it's popularity increased with the rise of photography and automobiles. Makes sense right? In both scenarios you can't be heard...but you (and your salute) can be seen...

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    • howlermunkey profile image
      Author

      Jeff Boettner 2 days ago from Tampa, FL

      Hi Mary,

      Two finger salute ey? Wonder what the reasoning behind that one is? I'mm looking that one up next...Thanks for stopping by!

      Hi Larry,

      Crazy right? One of those things that has been around forever. In this case thousands of years. Thanks for the feedback!

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 3 days ago from Oklahoma

      Never even thought to question its origin. Wonderful idea for an article. I love tidbits like this.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 4 days ago from Brazil

      Well, now I know!

      When I lived in the UK I always thought it odd that they used a two-finger salute.

      Having to kiss someone's middle finger is even worse than being flipped off, which can be brushed off as the flipper just being a jerk.

      I sure hope this comes up on a trivia question somewhere so I can share the knowledge.