Finger (gesture)

In Western cultures, the finger (as in giving someone the finger) is a well-known obscene hand gesture made by extending the middle finger of the hand while bending the other fingers into the palm. A known variation includes extending the thumb as well.

Alternate names

The gesture is also known as the "bird", "flipping the bird", "flipping someone off", "shooting a bird", "flying the bird", "telling me I'm number one", "the single-finger/one-fingered salute", "birdie worthy's", or innumerable other obscure monikers. When both hands are used (for emphasis), it may be known as the "double-barreled salute/giving both barrels", the "double deuce","space docking", a "double whammy" or the "dirty double". A variation of the hand gesture is also made by showing someone the back of the hand, with three fingers extended, with the comment to "read between the lines."


The origin of this gesture is speculative, and quite possibly thousands of years old. It is identified as the digitus impudicus ("impudent finger") in Ancient Roman writings and reference is made to using the finger in the Ancient Greek comedy The Clouds by Aristophanes. It was defined there as a gesture intended to insult another person. The widespread usage of the finger in many cultures is likely due to the geographical influence of the Roman Empire and Greco-Roman civilization. Another possible origin of this gesture can be found in the first-century Mediterranean world, where extending the digitus impudicus was one of many methods used to divert the ever present threat of the evil eye.

Another possible origin is the phallic imagery of the raised middle finger (the middle finger being the longest finger on the human hand), similar to the Italian version of the bent elbow insult. Also, there is a variation of the finger where it can be done by performing The Fangul, by sticking out the finger during the throwing motion.

A popular urban legend incorrectly states that during the Hundred Years' War, the French would cut off the middle fingers of captured English archers so they would be unable to use their bows, and that after the Battle of Agincourt, the victorious English showed the French that their middle fingers were still intact.

In non western cultures

In the UK, Ireland, Australia, India and New Zealand, the V sign (given with back of the hand towards the recipient) serves a similar purpose.

In Iran, and several other middle eastern countries, the "thumbs up" gesture means the same as "the finger" in western countries which can result in misunderstandings.

In some African and Caribbean countries, a similarly obscene gesture is extending all five digits with the palm facing forward, meaning "you have five fathers" (thus calling someone a bastard).

In South Asian countries such as India and Sri Lanka, certain limited social circles use the middle finger gesture in the same context that it is used in western cultures. The same is true for most South Asian countries. However, in Sri Lanka another version of the gesture exists, specially among the social circles not exposed to the western culture. In that version, the index finger is used in a similar manner to mean the same. In Egypt another version of the gesture used by erecting middle finger inwards to the palm the gesture is considered extremely vulgar and stands for sexual act of fingering.

Famous examples

In the media

  • Baseball player Charles Radbourn gave the finger in 1886.
  • In a late 1990's NASCAR race at Pocono, Dale Earnhardt gave Jeremy Mayfield the finger after Mayfield almost wrecked him while passing him for the win. Earnhardt was later asked in a post-race interview what he did, due to the 'unclear' TV images, to which Earnhardt replied "I told him he was #1."
  • The band The Supersuckers perform the song "Born With A Tail" live, where the band tells every person in the audience to raise their middle finger.
  • In the first Mr. Bean feature film, there is a scene where Mr. Bean mistakenly thinks that giving the finger is a positive gesture, similar to a thumbs-up sign.
  • In John Carpenter's They Live, George, as a last dying act, gives the aliens the finger.
  • In the film Juno Juno Macguff gives her best friend the finger as she kisses Bleaker.
  • In the film 'Constantine' Keanu Reeves, as the title character, after performing his deed of self sacrifice, gives the finger to Lucifer as Constantine is being taken to Heaven.
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force characters Ignignokt and Err (aka The Mooninites) are known for giving the finger.
  • The South Park character Craig is known for flipping people off and then denying it
  • Former WWE superstar Stone Cold Steve Austin frequently used the finger in his career.
  • On the cover of Moby Grape's self-titled debut album, drummer Don Stevenson gives the finger. The story goes that the band was tired and bored after a day spent being driven around by the photographer looking for a location for the shot. Stevenson's gesture was airbrushed off some early versions of the album cover.
  • The cover of pianist Ben Folds Live album, consists of the singer burying his head in his hands as the entire audience gives him the finger.
  • In Titanic, Rose DeWitt Bukater gave another character the finger. In his book Titanic: The Illustrated Screenplay, director and screenwriter James Cameron addresses accusations by critics that Rose's use of the finger in 1912 was an anachronism by pointing out its history dating back to Roman times.
  • In A Tale of Two Kitties, a 1942 Warner Bros. cartoon, two cats who are parodies of Abbott & Costello are after an early version of Tweety Pie. "Babbitt" yells up to "Catstello", who is at the top of a ladder, "Give me the bird, give me the bird!" "Catstello" breaks the fourth wall and says to the audience, "If the Hays Office would only let me, I'd give him the bird, all right!"
  • In the 2007 film Transformers, the Decepticon Frenzy gives the finger to federal agents at one point during the film.
  • In the Clint Eastwood film Every Which Way But Loose, Clyde the orangutan gives the finger.
  • In the film Ghost Rider, Ghost Rider gives the finger to police after riding off the bridge and into the water.
  • In the film Click, Adam Sandler's character gives the finger to his wife's new husband before dying. Or, so the new husband thinks. Apparently, Adam Sandler's character was trying to give him the 'OK' sign but has difficulty doing so.
  • In X-Men, after passing through (and destroying) a metal detector, Wolverine retracts his claws, with the exception of the middle one, in a way to give Cyclops the finger.
  • In The Matrix the main character Neo gives the finger to Agent Smith during an interrogation.
  • A Barney video, shot during a live performance, includes the traditional finger play song "Where Is Pointer". At one point, an older child is demonstrating "where is Tall Man", and gives the finger with both hands, and seems to be giggling when doing so.
  • Giving a finger is a common scene in Heavy metal scene as well as its sub-genres.
  • In the popular HBO series "Flight of the Conchords" in Episode Seven "Drive By", Dave teaches Jemaine and Bret to 'flip the bird' at a fruit vendor who is being racially prejudice towards them for being a New Zealander.
  • In The Simpsons Movie, Homer Simpson gives the finger to the crowd while trying to go through the sinkhole. However, since he only has four fingers, he gives the gesture with his third finger, which could be considered either his middle or ring finger.
  • In The Italian Job, Handsome Rob gives the finger to the cameramen while being chased by policemen in order to set a world record.
  • In the video game Devil May Cry 4, Nero gives Dante the finger when Dante says he'd be "pissed" if he didn't get his sword back
  • In the movie Office Space, Jennifer Aniston gives the finger to her fellow Chotchky's employees to express her frustrations with her boss and co-workers.

Political use of The Finger

See also

  • SuperFinger, comedian Dane Cook's variant created due to a loss of potency of the original


External links

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