Miss Hepburn's wickedly minxy finger (over there in me sidebar) has come in for a wee bit of a discussion. Being a bit of a sweary Mary and no stranger to sign language, I find it hard to believe that the Americans find that 'Flipping the bird' (or the 'one fingered salute' as we Brits call it) is ruder than rude and have even banned it from public consumption.
Banned from televisual screens across the States, this expressive hand gesture is apparently part of our cultural history, as John describes.....
"To clear up this little mystery we have to return to Agincourt. The French, who were overwhelmingly favored to win the battle, threatened to cut a certain body part off of all captured English soldiers so that they could never fight again. The body part in question was, of course, the middle finger, without which it is impossible to draw the renowned English longbow. This famous weapon was made of the native English yew tree, and so the act of drawing the longbow was known as "plucking yew". Thus, when the victorious English waved their middle fingers at the defeated French, they said, "See, we can still pluck yew! PLUCK YEW!"
Over the years some 'folk etymologies' have grown up around this symbolic gesture. Since "pluck yew" is rather difficult to say (like "pleasant mother pheasant plucker", which is who you had to go to for the feathers used on the arrows), 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. It is also because of the pheasant feathers on the arrows that the symbolic gesture is known as "flipping the bird"."
I did think, at first, that this was a load of birdshit but in depth research has shown that this is in fact true(ish). However, digitus impudicus (isn't that fab?) goes back further than that. Apparently the Romans and Ancient Greeks used it with gay abandon to ward off the Evil Eye.
I have to say that my impudent finger is quite often let lose at ignorant drivers and my boss often cops one behind her back, but why do Merkan's find it so offensive? Please tell me before I rush off to the land of stars and stripes and come home minus some digits!
While you're about it, could you also explain why this word has been banned as well....poor little innocent word.