Linguistics | ‘Flipping someone off’, ‘shooting the bird’ and ‘the one finger salute’

Hello! Welcome back to my life! I've just finished my exams for this year (hooray!) and now i'm just finishing off some last bits and bobs before I jet off to Thailand for the summer! Seeing as i've got a few weeks to wait until I can tell you all about my Thai adventures, I thought i'd share some of the stuff that I got up to at uni recently. Well, when I say "at uni" I really mean "what I wrote at home in my dressing gown"... for a uni assignment. 
This is a post that I wrote for my University's linguistics blog, where we have a lot of freedom on what we write about!
I hope nobody is offended by the use of explicit language in this; after all, it's a serious matter! (Also, if my friend can dedicate a whole chapter of her dissertation to bondage and sex positions then I deem the word fuck, in this instance, acceptable). (Sorry Mum). Here goes!

The middle finger

‘Flipping someone off’, ‘shooting the bird’ and ‘the one finger salute’ are all expressions used to describe the act of an offensive action, expressed with one’s middle finger.
Lets face it, most of us are born with two middle fingers, however for some reason it is deemed offensive to show them to others. When I say ‘show’, I don’t mean flashing your new, funky, blue Barry M nail polish to your best mate- I mean displaying the back of a closed fist with the third finger extended, parallel to the unfortunate receiver’s gaze.


Just like many other culturally determined gestures, the middle finger has been around for many years and was even used in Ancient Greece and Rome. It was, like today, used as a rough equivalent for “fuck you”, “up yours” and other phrases alike. During these times, it was used as a phallic sign, a sign of sexual intercourse, and as a sign of disrespect; I’d say that the latter was the most common nowadays. It can be used to aid speech, usually used alongside the sentence “well I think you should fuck off!” and even in the place of speech, where a simple flash of the finger conveys a clear enough message that you’ve had enough of someone’s presence.

Everyday use

Do not fear! Being flipped off isn’t always as terrible as it sounds. Often, in friendship and family circles, it is absolutely OK to use the supposedly obscene gesture. When accompanied by friendly banter and playfulness, the finger doesn’t always to have a huge, disgraceful effect on one’s life. (Or maybe my friends secretly hate me and I’ve been hanging round like a bad batch of spaghetti al vongole for far too long.)

"Should I always wear mittens?"

So what can really be said about the finger? As a student, I am used to seeing it on an almost daily basis between friends and it really is not a problem. However, when an angry driver is waving it around like a lightsaber-of-anger out of their car window, we don’t receive or appreciate it quite so well. The tip here, is to know your audience: it’s probably not a good idea to wave it around in public where anyone can interpret your intentions; it may be best to keep it away from the elderly and young, and from anybody of a high social status. Unless you want to really tick someone off, I advise you to keep it in your pockets my friends.

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