Ever wonder why we use the middle finger and not the ring or pinky finger to flip someone off? Just how did the middle finger become such an obscene hand gesture that symbolizes contempt? Turns out the origin of the middle finger dates all the way back in ancient Greece! Learn everything there is to know about flipping the bird and more.

Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece

In Greece, the middle finger gesture was called the katapygon (don't worry, we can't pronounce it either). The term was definitely meant as an insult, referring to "a male who submits to anal penetration." 

Latin Roots
Latin Roots

In Latin, the middle finger started to become less sexual and more insulting. Called the digitus impudicus, meaning the shameless, indecent or offensive finger, the middle finger was definitely not a gesture you wanted to receive. In the 1st century AD, Persius had his relatives concoct him a charm using spit and their middle fingers to mark the forehead before casting a spell.

See also: 13 Historical Facts That Will Totally Mess With Your Understanding Of Time

The Medieval Era
The Medieval Era

During the Middle Ages, knights would raise their lances upright towards each other and began raising their middle fingers in a similar gesture. 

The Classical Era
The Classical Era

Throughout the classical era, from the middle of the 1700s to the early 1800s, the middle finger was used as a symbol of sexual intercourse. The gesture was used to intimidate and degrade the person it was meant for. It was also used as a phallus symbol, with the middle finger representing the penis and the fingers on either side of it the testicles

The Modern Era (In The U.S.)
The Modern Era (In The U.S.)

Though there isn't any actual proof of who you should thank for introducing the middle finger in the United States, the gesture most likely came to the U.S. through Italian immigrants in the late 1800s. The first documental appearance of the finger in the states was in 1886. Boston Beaneaters baseball pitcher Old Hoss Radbourn was photographed flipping the bird at a member of their rival team who played for the New York Giants.

POW Protests
POW Protests

In 1968, the "USS Pueblo," an American spy ship being used for Navy intelligence, was captured by North Korea and became known as the Pueblo crisis. When the North Koreans would take a picture, crew members would discreetly give the finger, ruining the North Koreans' propaganda scheme. 


See also: 9 Unusual Origins Of Commons Words

Political Expression
Political Expression

Many political figures in recent decades have used the finger to express themselves. In 1968 Abbie Hoffman, an American political activist and anarchist, flipped the bird during the Democratic National Convention that year, shocking many people. While governor of California, Ronald Reagan gave the finger to protesters in Berkeley. 

Celebs Talk With Their Hands
Celebs Talk With Their Hands

The politicians don't get to have all the fun! Musical artists including Madonna, Lady Gaga, Eminem, Katy Perry and Adele have all publicly flipped the bird. Most famous, though, is probably a photo of Johnny Cash giving the middle finger to a photographer during a 1969 concert at San Quentin State Prison. 

Athletes Get In Trouble
Athletes Get In Trouble

Owner of the Tennessee Titans football team Bud Adams was fined $250,000 for giving not one, but two, middle fingers to the fans of the Buffalo Bills during a game. Yikes! There have also been a number of athletes suspended for flipping the bird publicly, but José Paniagua, a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox, probably regrets using the gesture the most. After giving the middle finger to the umpire he was released from the team and hasn't played in the major league since. 

Similar Gestures
Similar Gestures

There's more than one way to give the finger. In the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, the V sign, which looks like a peace sign with the back of the hand facing the recipient, means the same thing as flipping the bird. In Iran and Iraq , giving a thumbs up means roughly the same thing as flipping the bird, so you can see how gestures could be easily misinterpreted!

See also: 15 Everyday Items That Were Invented By Accident

 

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