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In Western culture, the finger (as in giving someone the finger), also known as the middle finger, the bird (as in flicking or flying the bird) or to flip someone off, is an obscene hand gesture, often meaning the phrase "fuck you" or "up yours". It is performed by extending the middle finger of the hand while bending the other fingers into the palm.

Origin

It is identified as the digitus impudicus (impudent finger) in Ancient Roman writings and reference is made to using the finger in ancient Greek comedy to insult another person. The widespread usage of the finger in many cultures is likely due to the geographical influence of the Roman Empire and Greco-Roman civilization.

Another possible origin of this gesture can be found in the first-century Mediterranean world, where extending the digitus impudicus was one of many methods used to divert the ever present threat of the evil eye.

Examples

In 1968, the USS Pueblomarker was captured by the Democratic People's Republic of Koreamarker. In photos published by the DPRK, crew members were photographed giving the finger. When their guards noticed this, the gesture was explained as a Hawaiian Good Luck Sign.

At a 1976 rally for Senator Bob Dole, then Vice President Nelson Rockefeller gave the finger to a group of protestors who were heckling him.

On Aug. 8, 1982, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau was filmed giving three protesters the finger at the train station in Salmon Arm, British Columbiamarker. The incident became infamous, earning the gesture the nickname the "Salmon Arm Salute" or "Trudeau Salute" in Canadamarker.

On July 9, 2003, Philip Wong Yu-hong ( ), a member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kongmarker in favor of the unpopular article 23, was seen giving democracy protesters the finger as he left the Legislative Council building.

On April 13, 2006, Italianmarker MP Daniela Santanchè gave the finger to students protesting in Romemarker against the Moratti school reform.

On September 18, 2006, Swedish Left Party leader Lars Ohly gave the finger to conservative pundit Marie Söderqvist during a debate on TV4. Ohly later apologized for the outburst.

On February 2, 2007, Mirek Topolánek, prime minister of Czech Republicmarker, gave the finger to left-wing deputies in the Czech parliament and later explained the gesture to the media and the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Republic as a friendly gesture towards Miroslav Kalousek, one of his cabinet ministers, meaning "You're the number one!" Kalousek, in turn, gave the finger to Social-Democratic deputy David Rath on December 17, 2008.

On November 15, 2009, Bud Adams, owner of the Tennessee Titans professional football franchise, flashed the finger several times during a game from his luxury suite, presumably in the direction of his team's opponents (the Buffalo Bills) or their fans. The National Football League (NFL) fined Adams US$250,000, deeming it "conduct detrimental to the league." Prior to learning of the fine, Adams apologized to anyone offended by his gesture, including the Bills and their fans.

Other similar obscene gestures

Although "the finger" has been called "the universal sign of disrespect", it is not universal. Many other gestures are used in various parts of the world to express the same sentiment.

In the UKmarker, Irelandmarker, Australia and New Zealandmarker, the V sign (given with back of the hand towards the recipient) serves a similar purpose. The characters of the British sitcom Are You Being Served? often use the V sign when agitated with each other. This gesture is also used to a lesser extent in Canadamarker.

In countries where Spanish, Portuguese, or French are spoken, and especially on the Iberian peninsulamarker and in Latin America, a gesture involving raising a fist and slapping the bicep on the same arm as the fist used, sometimes called the Iberian slap or Iberian finger, is equivalent to the finger.

In Canada there are many equivalents to the finger, due to the large influx of other world cultures in the last twenty years, especially in Torontomarker and Vancouvermarker. However, most Canadians still use either The Finger, The reverse V sign, or the Iberian slap.

In Italymarker, Polandmarker, and countries under the influence of Russian culture (Russiamarker, Belarusmarker, Ukrainemarker), the bent elbow insult is equivalent to The Finger.

In some African and Caribbeanmarker countries, a similarly obscene gesture is extending all five digits with the palm facing forward, meaning "you have five fathers" (thus calling someone a bastard).

In Greecemarker, the five fingers are spread wide and the palm is pushed towards someone in a gesture known as the Moutza.

In Indiamarker, Pakistanmarker, and Sri Lankamarker the social circles exposed to the western cultures use the middle finger gesture in the same sense that it is used in those cultures. The same is true for most South Asian countries.

References

  1. Adams, Cecil. "What's the origin of 'the finger'?" Straight Dope, September 4, 1998
  2. Malina, Bruce J., The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology, 3rd Ed., (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001)
  3. http://www.usspueblo.org/v2f/captivity/goodluck.html The Digit Affair
  4. [1]
  5. "One-finger salute crude to Ont. Film Review Bd.",The Canadian Press, February 7, 2009 (retrieved November 20, 2009)
  6. Apple Daily, July 10, 2003
  7. TVB noon news, July 10, 2003
  8. Daniela Santanchè, "saluta" a modo suo gli studenti che contestano davanti a Montecitorio
  9. Raggiunta telefonicamente da Corriere.it sulla vicenda del dito medio
  10. [2]
  11. Blesk.cz | Topolánek ukázal opozici zdvižený prostředník
  12. http://www.lidovky.cz/ln_domov.asp?c=A070203_141940_ln_domov_fho
  13. http://www.radio.cz/en/article/111478
  14. http://www.tennessean.com/article/20091117/SPORTS01/911170339/Bud+Adams++gesture+draws++250+000+fine++apology
  15. E.g., Echard v. Kraft, 159 Md. App. 110, 115; 858 A.2d 1018, 1021 (2004).
  16. http://www.oocities.com/CapitolHill/3544/gestures.htm



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