A Short History of the Middle Finger

According to legend and some Middle Ages lore, ‘the finger’, as in giving someone the finger, is a hand gesture made by extending the middle finger of the hand while bending the other fingers at the second knuckle. The Finger is a silent way of saying “f*** you”, using the finger as a phallic symbol. The reference to coitus may be strengthened by first wetting the finger or by sucking on it.

A story that refers to the gestures of longbow men fighting in the English army at the Battle of Agincourt in particular is often mentioned when we speak about the Middle Finger history.

Before the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the French, anticipating victory over the English, proposed to cut off the middle finger of all captured English soldiers. Without the middle finger it would be difficult to impossible to effectively draw the renowned English longbow and therefore be incapable of fighting in the future.

This famous weapon (the longbow) was made of the native English Yew Tree, and the act of drawing the longbow was known as “plucking the yew” (or “pluck yew”), like you would use the phrase to ‘pluck’ the strings on a guitar.

Much to the bewilderment of the French, the English won a major upset and began mocking the French by waving their middle fingers at the defeated French, saying, “See, we can still pluck yew! …PLUCK YEW!”

Since “pluck yew” was a rather difficult to say, the difficult consonant cluster at the beginning has gradually changed to a labiodental fricative ‘F’, and thus the words often used in conjunction with the one-finger-salute are mistakenly thought to have something to do with an intimate encounter.

In addition, they most often attached pheasant feathers on the rearward area of the arrows, that were also made from the Yew Tree, for stabilization of the arrows flight. The wooden arrow that was used in conjunction with the longbow eventually got to be known as the symbolic gesture we use today as ‘plucking the Yew” and “giving the bird” or “shooting the bird”…  when the arrow was shot.