[featured image shows off a Roman extending his finger in defiance, the bust was found in Scotland]
Origin of Flipping Off
Flipping people off is as old as mankind itself. The one finger flip and the two finger flip seem to have two very separate stories that still lead to basically the same meaning.
The Ancient One Finger Flip
The ancient Romans and the Greeks used it to symbolize the male phallic symbol and the Romans called this gesture the “Digitus impudicus”, the infamous/shameless finger. Examples are abundant in the classical era. For example in Greece, Laetius recorded the philosopher Diogenes of Sinope flipping the orator Demosthenes in the 4th century BC. In Rome, one of the many examples is found in the famous work of fiction the Satyricon where an old woman before casting a spell licks her middle finger and marks her forehead. Another poet named Martian described a person in good health showing off the middle finger to three doctors to tell them off on the fact that he didn’t need them. And the story goes on for… centuries.
The History of the Two Finger Flip
A popular legend narrates that after the Battle of Agincourt (1415) where 6,000 Englishman thanks to the incredible power of the newly deployed longbowmen won against 36,000 Frenchman men-at-arm and Knights. The French embarrassed and outraged commanded to cut the main index and middle finger used to draw a bow to every Englishman and Welshman they found. It actually takes three fingers to effectively draw a longbow and it appears that eventually the order was changed to three fingers. When the longbowmen found out they started taunting their two fingers in defiance to the French, showing them that they could still draw a bow and kill them.
The V Sign
The V sign, as it is often called, takes a different meaning depending on how you position your hand. Showing the back of your hand in the process it’s an infamous affront. Showing the palm of your hand stands for victory. The image of Winston Churchill exiting number 10 Downing Street at the end of World War 2 showing off first the back and then the front has often been interpreted for his annoyance at the press and his detractors and to the victory afterwards. His entourage then denied it stating that he was too much of a gentleman to even know what that meant.
Origins of the Two-Finger Insult – Beachcombing’s Bizarre History Blog (strangehistory.net)
The finger – Wikipedia