Friday, June 26, 2009

The History of the Middle Finger & "Fuck You"


This may be the most often used word in the English language, probably after the word "the". But how many of us know the origin of the words "fuck you". Culture and history are intertwined and can explain how things are the way they are today. Teenagers reading this can share the origin of "fuck you" with their parents the next time they get reprimanded for using the phrase - once you can explain the history to your parents, its not so bad. Somehow I think the story is true because I have read and heard many times before about 'giving him the bird' - which I thought was silly although that had overt nasty overtones. Now it all makes sense.

The History of the Middle Finger & "Fuck You"

Well, now......here’s something I never knew before, and now that I know it, I feel compelled to send it on to my more intelligent friends in the hope that they, too, will feel edified. Isn't history more fun when you know something about it?

Before the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the French, anticipating victory over the English, proposed to cut off the middle finger of all captured English soldiers. Without the middle finger, it would be impossible to draw the renowned English longbow; and therefore, they would be incapable of fighting in the future. This famous English longbow was made of the native English Yew tree, and the act of drawing the longbow was known as 'plucking the yew' (or 'pluck yew').

Much to the bewilderment of the French, the English won a major upset and began mocking the French by waving their middle fingers at the defeated French, saying, “See, we can still pluck yew!” Since 'pluck yew' is rather difficult to say, the difficult consonant cluster at the beginning has gradually changed to a labio-dentals fricative F', and thus the words often used in conjunction with the one-finger-salute! It is also because of the pheasant feathers on the arrows used with the longbow that the symbolic gesture is known as 'giving the bird.'




8 comments:

nick said...

Hmmm..Interesting but I always thought that "Fuck" is derive from "Fornication Under Consent of King" in middle ages Scotland during the time of 'braveheart"... Maybe it's a different version...

Piqued said...

from:
http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/bl-pluck-yew.htm


Comments: Pay no attention to the pseudo-academic bluster about pheasant pluckers, labiodental fricatives and the English longbow; this is a clever and amusing spoof, not to be taken seriously.

Jesse Sheidlower, author of "The F-Word" (Random House: 1999), says the "totally ludicrous" tale erroneously conflates the etymology of the word fuck with an older bit of folklore, itself questionable, purporting to trace the origin of the European "two-finger salute" (roughly analagous to "flipping the bird" in America) back to the taunts of British archers against the French during the Hundred Years' War.

Etymologists say fuck found its way into the English language from Dutch or Low German during the 14th century and made its first written appearance around 1500. The word pluck, on the other hand, is of Latin derivation and there is no known linguistic connection between the two English words. It's doubtful the expression "Pluck yew" was ever uttered before 1996, when this apocryphal story first went into circulation online.

The middle-finger gesture, which has apparently had phallic connotations in every culture in which it has been used, is much older. We know it dates back to ancient Greece, at least, where it was referenced in "The Clouds," a play written by Aristophanes in 423 B.C. It was also well known to the Romans, who referred to it variously as digitus infamis ("infamous finger") and digitus impudicus ("indecent finger"). In all likelihood its origins were prehistoric.

lsb said...

a different version: ancient England or France, fornication needed sovereign consent so married couple was given a plague and when they dont want to be disturbed hanged on the door.

fornication under consent of King (fuck.

Wei Li said...

Isb,
"married couple was given a plague"
that had me stoned for a moment :-o
would it be that u meant plaque or some other similarly spelt word?

lsb said...

Wei Li, Plate. tks

laurence said...

FUCK also stands for 'For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge" - something to do with underage sex?

Mark Schon said...

Fornication refers to sex outside of marriage. Why would a married couple want permission from the king to have sex out of wedlock? In addition, if the sovereign had to give permission for a married couple to begin having sex, that sovereign wouldn't have time to do anything else. Nonetheless, I am sure that the neighbors had a laugh when they saw plaques on the doors in the neighborhood!

Mark Schon said...

Fornication refers to sex outside of marriage. Why would a married couple want permission from the king to have sex out of wedlock? In addition, if the sovereign had to give permission for a married couple to begin having sex, that sovereign wouldn't have time to do anything else. Nonetheless, I am sure that the neighbors had a laugh when they saw plaques on the doors in the neighborhood!