Semper Gratus!

Be Grateful You’re an American!

August 30, 2006

Subject: History of the Middle Finger

by @ 12:45 pm. Filed under teh Funny

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Well, now… here’s something I never knew before, and now that I know it, I feel compelled to send it on to my more intelligent friends in the hope that they, too,will feel edified. Isn’t history more fun when you know something about it?

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 impossible to draw the renowned English longbow and therefore they would be incapable of fighting in the future. This famous English 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”).

Much to the bewilderment of the French, the English won a major upset and began mocking the French by waiving their middle fingers at the defeated French, saying, See, we can still pluck yew! Since ‘pluck yew’ is rather difficult to say, the difficult consonant cluster at the beginning has gradually changed to a labiodentals fricative F’, and thus the words often used in conjunction with the one-finger-salute!

It is also because of the pheasant feathers on the arrows used with the longbow that the symbolic gesture is known as “giving the bird.”


And yew thought yew knew every plucking thing!

la·bi·o·den·tal; adj.; Articulated with the lower lip and upper teeth, as the sounds (f) and (v).
fric·a·tive; n.; A consonant, such as f or s in English, produced by the forcing of breath through a constricted passage. Also called spirant.

I look ’em up so you don’t have to!

17 Responses to “Subject: History of the Middle Finger”

  1. taco bell Says:

    Very nice!!!!! I love it.

  2. Mrs. Diva Says:

    Thank you for looking them up:) Your work is never done!

  3. Samantha West Says:

    Well now G/N, you outdid yourself. Outstanding!


  4. linda Says:

    GN, always in the lead! haha

  5. Pluck Yew: History of the Middle Finger « kindlingman Says:

    […] GunnNutt over at Semper Gratus has found the history of the middle finger salute. You can read it HERE: […]

  6. jimmyb Says:

    I always learn something here… 🙂

  7. Karen I. Says:

    Do I get to do this on a regular basis if I explain the history to people? What FUN!

  8. Laura, Marine mom from Ohio Says:

    I don’t know where you come up with this stuff but keep on keepin’ on! I love it!

  9. Cheryl Friend Says:

    l a b i o d e n t a l…f r i c a t i v e?!?!?

    I’m a little befuckled!

  10. GunnNutt Says:

    I rely on the kindness of astute readers and friends to fill in the gaps here when I’m being lazy, er… busy.

  11. jim b Says:

    I nominate this post as the best digital discussion to come down the pike since ….. well since … okay ever to come down the pike. It is far better than the post office labeling some mail F.U.C.K. Mail … for “Forbidden Use of Carnal Knowledge”.

    Pardon my French.

  12. Donna, Los Osos, CA Says:

    Another important historical fact not taught in schools. Dang..this is important stuff!

  13. SammyD Says:

    This is really long – sorry. I wanted to email it to GunnNutt to edit but couldn’t find e-address. Just got this in an email myself, and it’s so befuckedly right up GN’s English language alley that I couldn’t resist posting it. Especially the last part about “UP” – wish I’d had that when Cap’t B was “down” for so long.

    I don’t know who to give kudos to for authoring this, but … Cheers!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Read these out loud:
    1) The bandage was wound around the wound.

    2) The farm was used to produce produce.

    3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

    4) We must polish the Polish furniture.

    5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.

    6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

    7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

    8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum

    9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

    10) I did not object to the object.

    11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

    12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

    13) They were too close to the door to close it.

    14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.

    15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

    16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

    17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

    18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.

    19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

    20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

    Let’s face it – English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

    And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices? Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

    If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?

    How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which, an alarm goes off by going on.

    English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

    PS. – Why doesn’t “Buick” rhyme with “quick”

    You lovers of the English language might enjoy this .

    There is a two-letter word that perhaps
    Has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that is “UP.”

    It’s easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP? At a meeting, why does a topic come UP? Why do we speak UP and why are the officers UP for election and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report?

    We call UP our friends. And we use it to brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver, we warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen. We lock UP the house and some guys fix UP the old car. At other times the little word has real special meaning. People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses. To be dressed is one thing but to be dressed
    UP is special .

    And this UP is confusing: A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP. We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night.

    We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP ! To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP , look the word UP in the di ctionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4th of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions. If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used. It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don’t give UP , you may wind UP with a hundred or more. When it threatens to rain, we say it is cloudi ng UP . When the sun comes out we say it is clearing UP .

    When it rains, it wets the earth and often messes things UP .

    When it doesn’t rain for awhile, things dry UP .

    One could go on and on, but I’ll wrap it UP, for now my time is UP , so………… Time to shut UP…..!

  14. Bridget Says:

    Very educational blog you have GN!
    I have another word I learned today for your befuckled dictionary…
    Obliviots!—those who just don’t have a clue…do love this term! and know quite a few …unfortunately…

  15. GunnNutt Says:

    Good one SammyD! Wherever did you dig this UP? (heh, it popped UP in your email box).

    My email addy is on the “About” page. When I update the template I’ll put it on the front page, too.

    Bridget – I like it! Reminds me of a D.C. term we use for moronic tourists: Touron.

  16. Maggie Says:

    Very entertaining.

  17. Jon L. Says:

    I heard the “pluck yew” story a long time ago. I always wondered if it was true. So I googled it today and found your website. I also found and These sites debunk the whole story. And it was such a good story.


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