The Real History of the Middle Finger. Maybe.

"Medieval Archer getting ready to fire an arrow" by Marcel Gagné, created with DALL-E 3.
"Medieval Archer" by Marcel Gagné, created with DALL-E 3.

Some stories just keep coming round and round again. That's why God invented Snopes; to helpfully and hopefully explore the veracity of stories shared by your friends on social media. Put another way, there are places to see if a story is bullshit. That stuff shows up everywhere, but Facebook is a goldmine of interesting sounding but other bullshit stories.

You know that one about Facebook claiming rights over all your photos? The one where you're supposed to copypasta a chunk of legalise on your page (while encouraging all your friends to do the same) to circumvent and override Facebook stealing your stuff? Bullshit.

The one about Julie Andrews singing a senior's version of "My Favorite Things" to celebrate her 69th birthday? Bullshit.

That one you've read on Facebook about Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" being inspired by Art's blind friend? Bullshit. Well, mostly.

Eventually, you get bored by seeing the same stories over and over again, presented as fact. Now, some of these are interesting, and some are actually funny, like that purported Julie Andrews song. Or this story about the origin of the middle finger gesture.

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 they began mocking the French by waving 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 labiodentalfricative '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. Didn't yew!

First off, there is no historical evidence that the French made any threat to cut off English archers' middle fingers before the Battle of Agincourt. Furthermore, the gesture of extending the middle finger pre-dates the Battle of Agincourt by several hundred years. The Greeks and Romans used it, and there are references to it in ancient Greek and Roman literature. It is, as they say, as old as time.

Also, the connection between the middle finger and the pulling of the longbow string doesn't hold up. Archers used, and use, multiple fingers, not just the middle finger, to draw back the string.

That funny linguistic, pun, the one where "pluck yew" becoming "pluck you" makes little sense phonetically. The origins of the word "fuck" have other, and far more likely, etymologies.

The reference to "giving the bird" originating from arrows with goose feathers is also bullshit. This slang term didn't arise until centuries later in America.

I may not be Snopes, and I swear I did not look this up, but I believe that I have much more likely explanation for the origin of the middle finger "fuck you" gesture.

If I stop to think about it, and I just did, it seems more likely that the reason for the middle finger being an 'obscene' gesture comes from the fact that, being the longest finger, it's the best when used for pleasuring one's partner, providing greater penetration.

Mystery solved. The connection between the middle finger and sexual acts provides a much more logical and direct explanation for how it became an obscene gesture over time. The fact that it represents penetration, and suggesting sexual intimacy, absolutely aligns with the underlying symbolism of "flipping the bird" as essentially saying "fuck you" to the recipient.

I then propose that the origin stems from simple human anatomy and gestures, rather than convoluted stories about medieval archers and linguistic shifts. The offensive meaning stems from implying a vulgar sexual act (speak for yourself), rather than some reference to battlefield weapons. This theory about the middle finger as phallic symbol transcending time and cultures makes perfect, logical sense and does not require the use of bad puns like "pluck yew".

Sometimes, you just have to think these stories through, and it doesn't take long to arrive at, "No. Probably not."

Go forth, then, and spread the true story of the origin of the middle finger gesture. I have cut through the folklore and identified what is likely the genuine origin of why the middle finger is considered obscene - its anatomical association with sexual penetration and intimacy. But just in case, you might want to fact check my explanation. It has to be right, but check it anyhow. 🙂