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The finger

In Western culture, the finger (as in giving someone the finger or the bird), also known as the finger wave, the middle finger, flipping someone off, or flicking someone off, is an obscene hand gesture, often meaning the phrases "up yours", "fuck off" ("screw off") or "fuck you" ("screw you") . It is performed by showing the back of a closed fist that has only the middle finger extended upwards. Extending the finger is considered a universal symbol of contempt.

The gesture dates back to Ancient Rome, and was also used in Ancient Greece. In recent times, the gesture has gained increased acceptance, and has been used increasingly by celebrities. However, many still view the gesture as obscene.


Baseball pitcher Old Hoss Radbourn pictured giving the finger to cameraman, 1886. (Back row, far left). First known photograph of the gesture.[1]

The middle finger originated in Ancient Rome, where the gesture was used as a symbol of anal intercourse in a manner meant to degrade, intimidate and threaten the object of their ire.[2] The act was referred to as digitus impudicus.[3] The gesture was also used in Ancient Greece. Philosopher Diogenes made the gesture in reference to orator Demosthenes in Athens in the 4th Century BC.[3] Greek playright Aristophanes used the gesture in his comedy, The Clouds, in 419 BC.[3]

The finger is similar to a gesture made by Knights in the Medieval Era, in which they raised their lances upright towards each other.[2] It is also reminiscent of the manner male baboons and squirrel monkeys gesture with an erect penis as both a warning of impeding danger and a thread to predators.[2][3]

Linguist Jesse Sheidlower traces the gesture's development in the United States to the 1890s.[2] According to anthropologist Desmond Morris, the gesture probably came to the United States from Italian immigrants.[3] The first documented appearance of the finger in the United States was 1886 when Old Hoss Radbourn, a baseball pitcher for the Boston Beaneaters, was photographed giving it to a member of the rival New York Giants.[3]

Cultural impact[edit]

The gesture has been involved in notable political events. Abbie Hoffman used the gesture at the 1968 Democratic National Convention and Ronald Reagan gave the middle finger to counterculture protestors in Berkeley, California.[2] Then-Vice President of the United States Nelson Rockefeller directed the gesture to hecklers at a 1976 campaign stop, leading it to be called the "Rockefeller Gesture".[2]

The middle finger has been involved in judicial hearings. An Appellate Court in Hartford, Connecticut ruled in 1976 that gesturing with the middle finger was offensive, but not obscene, after a police officer charged a 16-year-old with making an obscene gesture when the student gave the officer the middle finger.[4] The case was appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court,[5] which upheld the decision.[6] In March 2006, a federal lawsuit was filed regarding the free speech issue.[7]

The use of the middle finger has become more pervasive in popular culture. The band Cobra Starship released a song called "Middle Finger", and released a music video that showed people giving the finger.[8] Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan established an 11 metres (36 ft) marble statue of a middle finger, located directly in front of the Milan Stock Exchange.[9] A famous photograph of Johnny Cash shows him giving the middle finger to a photographer during a 1969 concert at San Quentin State Prison.[10] Cameron Diaz made the gesture during a photo shoot for Esquire.[11]

Athletes, including Ron Artest, Luis Suárez, and Ivan Rodriguez have been suspended for making the gesture.[3][11][12] Musical artists, including Lady Gaga, Eminem, Justin Bieber, and Katy Perry have all publicly made the gesture.[13] M.I.A. gave the gesture during the Super Bowl XLVI Halftime Show.[3][14] The National Football League, NBC, and M.I.A. apologized.[3][15] Psychologist David Walsh, founder of the National Institute on Media and the Family, sees the growing acceptance of the middle finger as a sign of the growth of a "culture of disrespect". [11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Achorn, Edward (2010). Fifty-nine in '84: Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball, and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had. Smithsonian Books. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-06-182586-6. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f [1]
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Nasaw, Daniel (February 6, 2012). "When did the middle finger become offensive?". BBC News Magazine. BBC. Retrieved February 7, 2012. 
  4. ^,3382610&dq=middle-finger&hl=en
  5. ^ [2]
  6. ^ p,3349445&dq=middle-finger+connecticut&hl=en]
  7. ^,3637599&dq=middle-finger&hl=en
  8. ^ "Cobra Starship's 'Middle Finger' Video Is Bird-Flipping Fun - Music, Celebrity, Artist News". 2012-01-19. Retrieved 2012-07-09. 
  9. ^ "Middle finger sculpture pops up in front of Milan Stock Exchange | News | National Post". Retrieved 2012-07-09. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b c,2392414&dq=middle-finger&hl=en
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Gardner, Tim (5 February 2012). "M.I.A. flips middle finger during Super Bowl halftime show". Retrieved 6 February 2012. 
  15. ^ Frere-Jones, Sasha (6 February 2012). "M.I.A. Shouldn't have apologized". The New Yorker. Retrieved 15 February 2012. 

External links[edit]