Sunday, July 22, 2007

Aud's finger

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.



Anonymous said...

It's true? Holy shit!

John said...

If there's any truth to this, then I must credit Dr. Thomas Magliozzi and Dr. Raymond (You can call me Ray) Magliozzi, both of M.I.T., for the original research. More familiarly, they are known as Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers.

L.M.Noonan said...

Oh learned woman...labiodental fricative. That one's a keeper. Lucky I had on a fresh nappy or it would have been a touch of 'Little Britain' round here, more specifically under my computer chair. And I agree luv, twas never a pretty word than twat.

John said...

From OED: "Fletcher, R, Vanity of Vanities 1660, 'They talk't of his having a Cardinall's Hat / They'd send him as soon an Old Nun's Twat.'"

Also, "Twat-scowerer, a physician or surgeon."

There is also talk of "dang'rous streets, where Stones and Twats in Frosty Winters meet."

Apparently it refers to the human posterior, a piece of anatomy to which decent people do not refer.

Unknown said...

After yet more exhaustive, and exhausting, research, I find that this story pops up in a number of places - it's plucking trew (still room for argument there, I feel - but no wise ass historians thank you).

As for 'twat' we mannerly British use it to varying degrees but I think John Cooper Clarke sums it up in a little ditty simply entitled -


Like a Night Club in the morning, you’re the bitter end.
Like a recently disinfected shit-house, you’re clean round the bend.
You give me the horrors
too bad to be true
All of my tomorrow’s
are lousy coz of you.

You put the Shat in Shatter
Put the Pain in Spain
Your germs are splattered about
Your face is just a stain

You’re certainly no raver, commonly known as a drag.
Do us all a favour, here... wear this polythene bag.

You’re like a dose of scabies,
I’ve got you under my skin.
You make life a fairy tale... Grimm!

People mention murder, the moment you arrive.
I’d consider killing you if I thought you were alive.
You’ve got this slippery quality,
it makes me think of phlegm,
and a dual personality
I hate both of them.

Your bad breath, vamps disease, destruction, and decay.
Please, please, please, please, take yourself away.
Like a death a birthday party,
you ruin all the fun.
Like a sucked and spat our smartie,
you’re no use to anyone.
Like the shadow of the guillotine
on a dead consumptive’s face.
Speaking as an outsider,
what do you think of the human race

You went to a progressive psychiatrist.
He recommended suicide...
before scratching your bad name off his list,
and pointing the way outside.

You hear laughter breaking through, it makes you want to fart.
You’re heading for a breakdown,
better pull yourself apart.

Your dirty name gets passed about when something goes amiss.
Your attitudes are platitudes,
just make me wanna piss.

What kind of creature bore you
Was is some kind of bat
They can’t find a good word for you,
but I can...

John said...

Well, I never...

Meloney Lemon said...

Someone told me that 'twat'is a word for a pregnant fish. Go tell THAT to the Marines.

Unknown said...

My gosh what an educational post this is. And am I NOT to believe what my Dad yanked me aside to explain at a family party many many moons ago when I then thought it was just a playful variation of twit?
Oh BTW, have any of you actually ever done any archery?

Jon M said...

I thought the Agincourt story applied to the two fingered salute, or so my granddad told me and he was there!

And wasn't there something to do with Fornicating ...something...Carnal knowledge laws in Ireland known as the 'Fuck Law'

Just playing Devil's Advocaat! :-)

Anonymous said...

ummm ...... daring to dip a toe in obviously hollowed oops i meant hallowed waters ......

wasn't it some small island that sent us a shipload of puritans and started this whole mess?

if you had just started out colonizing our fair land with a crew of seafaring, swearing sailors and a few hookers - things might be a bit looser around here.

Unknown said...

You're right Meloney, according to some of my stranger dictionaries twat is a pregnant goldfish.

Verilion, never let it be said that my blog does not provide good value for money. What more could you want - an in depth study of the English language and accurate historical facts?
According to the Wikiwikiwotnot, Jon, the Fuck Law is not entirely true....
"that the word fuck came from Irish law. If a couple were caught committing adultery, they would be punished "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge In the Nude", with "FUCKIN" written on the stocks above them to denote the crime."

Unknown said...

Red Dirt Girl - yep, got it in one. We sent all the dull people your way, the boring, the sanctimonious and the pious that were stopping us all from having a ball. Sorry.

Jon M said...

oh well, you live and learn...and who gives a f...?

Roberta said...

Ohhh. I am one American that has never refrained from plucking a yew.

As a matter of fact, I waive it freely as most proud Americans are inclined.

I even learned how to do it online. Yes. I did! Here! I'll show you!


See? (Blushing)

Oh, Minx. I apologize. I'm sorry. It wasn't aimed at you. Not at all! I just wanted someone to recognize how clever I am. Honestly!

I can be such a silly tw..

I can't even say the word, but my mother-in-law (God rest her soul) used it quite frequently. I wonder why?

soubriquet said...

labio-dental fricative! I was listening to the very track only yesterday!

"Cannibal chiefs chew Camembert cheese
'cause chewing keeps 'em cheeky
Big Fat Fred sticks fur to his head
'cause he thinks fur makes him freaky
Benjamin Bland and his Bugle Band blow the blues bi-weekly
How many pies can a porpoise poise on purpose if she pleases?"

Unknown said...

Roberta! I love that

m!m m!m (two fingered salute).
And don't worry, you can say the 't' word here, the Twat Police don't know we're here.

Mr Soub, that is very quirksome - I like a cheeky Camembert.

The Moon Topples said...

To be fair to us what live under Star and Stripe, most of our personal sensibilities are not defined by our broadcasting standards. There are many things we cannot do or say on television which are acceptable in daily life.

On our flickering screens, we are not allowed all manner of expression (far more than the seven George Carlin singled out). We cannot show too much of a breast, or say "god damn" or "jesus christ" as expletives.

But we don't consider "bloody" a curse at all. Chew on that.

As for the bird, the finger: I distincly recall learning that it was a dirty thing walking to Kindergarten with some older children. We had no ideas as to the origin of such profanity, but were happy to use it whenever possible.

Anonymous said...

but hey! you gave us the finger too ......

Saaleha said...

but i rather like twat. as for the bird, well, i have never found the need...yet

Jon M said...

Twat always used to mean to hit as 'to twat someone' round our neck of the woods!

Wanderlust Scarlett said...


You are something else. Thanks for this indepth examination of the history of this phenomenon.

I cannot tell you why Americans are offended, but I can tell you that MOST Americans use it frequently.
It's one of those universally understood forms of communication.

Had to giggle... if "Fuckery" didn't change your PG13 rating, then surely "Birdshit" & "Twat" will qualify you for a racier classification.

You go girl.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Unknown said...

Bloody hell, MT, chewing like mad. Grr, grr and double grr.

One of our finest exports, Red Dirty Girl.

Yep, Twat is expressive, Jon and Saaleha. To 'twat' someone is countrywide, I think.

Scarlett, don't get me onto fuckage - a damn fine word with a hundred uses.

Anonymous said...

oh minx .... you are exposing my secrets .....

though i think i'm best known as

ready dirty girl

Unknown said...

Cor bugger la...

soubriquet said...

Oh , hello, me again. See there was a misunderstanding about Labio-Dental Fricative, and a mutual correspondent sussested it was suggesive, and that my comment was naughty.
It was the Labio bit that brought about the tut-tuttage.
So, let me clarify.
Ladies, this is NOT about dentists in your undercarriage,
The labile constituent of Labio-dental fricative is your bottom lip... No, the one on your FACE...
Labio-dental fricative describes a sound, made by passing air through a narrowed channel (fricative) modified by the bottom lip (labio) meeting the upper teeth.(Dental)
So Labio-dental fricative is a linguistic term to describe a sound. In English, the letters F and V are labio-dental fricatives...
The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band sang a song of that title. To which I referred.
Sheesh! surely you all knew that?

And fucking? the F word goes back far before the 'For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge' stories.... About a thousand years before. Similar words exist in old Norse, and old high German. So the chances are that there was a common ancestor to the word.

Alas, nobody has a definitive answer, but certainly evidence is against the 'irish stocks' explanation.

Unknown said...

What do we call all those dentists for our front bottoms then?

(skips off, laughing at own silliness)

Anonymous said...

ohhhhh minx - you always manage to ask the right questions .... i'm on the floor laughing at your own silliness ......

but hey ?!! I'd like an answer to that question ..