Fun_People Archive
10 Jan
Where did that gesture come from?

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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Fri, 10 Jan 97 00:35:56 -0800
To: Fun_People
Subject: Where did that gesture come from?

Forwarded-by: "Claude Ginsburg" <>
Forwarded-by: (Dave Apman 206-865-3305)

Where did that gesture come from?

The 'Car Talk' show (on NPR) with Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers have
a feature called the 'Puzzler', and their most recent 'Puzzler' was about
the battle of 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 English won in
a major upset and waved the body part in question at the French in defiance.

The puzzler was:  What was this body part?  This is the answer submitted by
a listener:

Dear Click and Clack,
Thank you for the Agincourt 'Puzzler', which clears up some profound
questions of etymology, folklore and emotional symbolism.  The body part
which the French proposed to cut off of the English after defeating them
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!

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
"giving the bird".

       And yew all thought yew knew everything!

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