Mike Kueber's Blog

June 26, 2012

Giving someone the finger

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mike Kueber @ 7:39 pm
Tags: , ,

While lounging in the apartment pool this last weekend, our resident cardiologist, a highly literate fellow, regaled several of us about the origin of “giving someone the finger.”  He was prompted to tell the story because some smart-ass remark by me had caused him to give me the finger and to prevent me from resorting to fisticuffs he smartly decided to shift our exchange into something educational.  I’m always a sucker for education. 

According to Doc, giving someone the finger had something to do with a war between the French and British in the 1400s and the practice of cutting off a captured soldier’s middle finger to prevent him from being able to use a longbow made of yew (“pluck the yew”). 

The story was interesting and Doc is credible, but I decided to verify.  Sure enough, there is a colorful blog posting that repeats the story almost identical to Doc’s rendition, including the reference to yews and the 1415 Battle of Agincourt.  But there are also comments to the story suggesting that it is apocryphal. 

The consensus of internet wisdom is reflected in Wikipedia, which traces the practice of using the middle finger as an insult suggesting sexual dominance back to ancient Greece.  The Wikipedia article also includes the first-known photograph depicting someone giving the finger – a player in the 1886 team photo of the Boston Beaneaters, a professional baseball team. 

The Wiki photo reminds me of a team photo that I took in the early 70s during high school.  But instead of making a statement by surreptitiously giving the finger, which would have surely earned me an expulsion, I made a peace sign with each hand resting on my knee.  When the administration learned of my unacceptable display, they edited my fingers out of the picture.

In hindsight, I’m surprised I didn’t get into trouble and should thank my lucky stars.

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