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The finger

In Western culture, the finger (as in giving someone the finger), also known as the middle finger, the highway salute, 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 showing the back of the hand, extending the middle finger of the hand upwards while bending the other fingers down into the palm.



It is identified as the digitus impudicus (impudent finger) in Ancient Roman writings[1] 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.[2]


Middle finger.JPG

In the 1932 movie The Lost Squadron, as two of the stunt-pilot characters in separate planes are arguing by gesturing to each other, one of them is seen giving the finger. This was just before the Hays Code system of self-censorship began to be seriously enforced in Hollywood.

In 1968, the USS Pueblo was captured by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. 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.[3]

In 1969 photographer Jim Marshall captured Johnny Cash giving the finger backstage at a performance at San Quentin Prison in what would become an iconic photograph. [4]

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. Dole later quipped that where he's from, this is not only a gesture but a promise (to the general public). [5]

On Aug. 8, 1982, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau was filmed giving three protestors the finger at the train station in Salmon Arm, British Columbia. The incident became infamous, earning the gesture the nickname the "Salmon Arm Salute" or "Trudeau Salute" in Canada.[6]

On July 9, 2003, Philip Wong Yu-hong (Chinese: 黃宜弘), a member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong in favor of the unpopular article 23, was seen giving democracy protesters the finger as he left the Legislative Council building.[7][8]

On April 13, 2006, Italian MP Daniela Santanchè gave the finger to students protesting in Rome against the Moratti school reform.[9][10]

On September 18, 2006, Swedish Left Party leader Lars Ohly gave the finger to conservative pundit Marie Söderqvist during a debate on TV4. Only later did he apologize for the outburst.[11]

On February 2, 2007, Mirek Topolánek, prime minister of Czech Republic, gave the finger to left-wing deputies in the Czech parliament [12] 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!"[13] Kalousek, in turn, gave the finger to Social-Democratic deputy David Rath on December 17, 2008.[14]

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." After learning of the fine, Adams apologized to anyone offended by his gesture, including the Bills and their fans.[15]

On February 12, 2010, Saint John Liberal MLA Abel LeBlanc was suspended from the New Brunswick Legislature for extending his middle finger at the Opposition Progressive Conservatives. [16]

Other similar obscene gestures

Although "the finger" has been called "the universal sign of disrespect",[17] it is not universal. For example, in Japanese Sign Language, when the palm is facing out, it is recognized as the letter Se. Many other gestures are used in various parts of the world to express the same sentiment.

In the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, the V sign (when given with back of the hand towards the recipient) serves a similar purpose.

In countries where Spanish, Portuguese, or French are spoken, and especially on the Iberian peninsula and in Latin America, a gesture called the Bras d'honneur 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. Italy, Poland, and countries under the influence of Russian culture (Russia, Belarus, Ukraine) also see the Bras d'honneur as equivalent to The Finger.

In some African and Caribbean 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).[18]

In Greece, the five fingers are spread wide and the palm is pushed towards someone in a gesture known as the Moutza. The middle finger is still used though, and it is considered more insulting. Another variation of the middle finger is used, where all the fingers but the middle one are spread wide while moving the hand back and forth in the axis the middle finger creates. In this gesture, the thumb sometimes touches the middle finger. The insult of this move may vary, being sometimes equivalent to the Moutza (still it is less insulting than the usual and universal middle finger). This gesture means that somebody is in a bad situation, either the one who is doing the gesture or the one receiving it.

In India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka 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.[19]

In Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and a few other Slavic countries, the middle finger gesture is not as obscene and is used more to show annoyance, as though to say to a person, "Get lost".

In William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet, Capulet's servant Sampson starts a fight by "biting his thumb" at Abraham, Montague's servant. This gesture can be interpreted as being equivalent to giving someone the middle finger.


  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. ^ "The Digit Affair". 1999-06-08. Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  4. ^ "• The official collection from music’s master photographer • Beatles Hendrix Joplin Stones Who Dylan Grateful Dead Santana Coltrane Davis Monk". 1969-02-24. Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  5. ^ "History of The Finger". Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  6. ^ "One-finger salute crude to Ont. Film Review Bd.",The Canadian Press, February 7, 2009 . Retrieved November 20, 2009.
  7. ^ "Apple Daily, July 10, 2003". Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  8. ^ "TVB noon news, July 10, 2003". 2009-02-02. Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  9. ^ (Italian)Daniela Santanchè, "saluta" a modo suo gli studenti che contestano davanti a Montecitorio
  10. ^ (Italian)Raggiunta telefonicamente da sulla vicenda del dito medio
  11. ^ "Expressens krönikör fick fingret - av Ohly - Nyheter - Senaste nytt | Expressen - Nyheter Sport Ekonomi Nöje". 2006-09-18. Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  12. ^ "Topolánek ukázal opozici zdvižený prostředník". Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  13. ^ 3. února 2007  14:19. "Ukazoval mi, že jsem jednička". Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  14. ^ 09:30 UTC (2008-12-18). "MP and finance minister trade insult, finger gesture - Radio Prague". Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^
  17. ^ E.g., Echard v. Kraft, 159 Md. App. 110, 115; 858 A.2d 1018, 1021 (2004).
  18. ^ "What's A-O.K. in the U.S.A. Is Lewd and Worthless Beyond". The New York Times. 1996-08-18. Retrieved 2008-04-11. 
  19. ^ [2]

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