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Thread: "the finger"

  1. #1
    Senior Member Country: Great Britain
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    I've just watched a documentary on the English long bow. The narration claims that the English two-fingered version of "the finger" derives from the French practice of cutting off those particular fingers of captured archers.

    The archers would taunt the French by waving their unmutliated fingers - while I suppose the French accused them of being sons of silly persons and suggested that they boil their bottoms.

    Sounds plausible, but like a lot of explanations of odd customs, it's a bit too pat. Anyone in the know on this important cultural question?

  2. #2
    Senior Member Country: UK CaptainWaggett's Avatar
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    It's not true according to Snopes. THough the proper Britmovie source would be [ame="http://www.amazon.co.uk/Longbow-Military-History-Robert-Hardy/dp/1852606207/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1220534369&sr=8-1"]The Longbow by Robert Hardy[/ame]

  3. #3
    Senior Member Country: Scotland narabdela's Avatar
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    This is an old chestnut. It must have been a very lazily researched documentary to have trotted that out.

  4. #4
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    name='CaptainWaggett']It's not true according to Snopes. THough the proper Britmovie source would be The Longbow by Robert Hardy


    Well, that;s what I thought. The presenter of the programme is Robert Hardy - the author of the book you cite. I'd guess he read the script, and as a medieval historian I would say he'd distance himself from anything he didn't endorse or tolerate as a possibility. I've not read the book, so i don't know if he addesses the question.

    The snopes article doesn't convince me: it focusses on the question of ransom. Of course bowmen weren't worth anything at ransom, although the programme does suggest that they came from the class of small traders rather than the lowest peasantry. But ransom isn't the issue. i have nothing to say on the silly 'pluck yew' nonsense.

    The film suggests that the purpose of the mutilation was terror.

    If that's true, it would be an instance of the practice of retaliation for weapons and tactics which were considered (by the enemy) to be contrary to established or imagined rules of war: the Roman gladius, the saw-toothed bayonet of WW1 and the commando raids of WW2 are well-known examples which provoked savage reprisals.

    So, any other candidates for the two-fingered salute?


  5. #5
    Super Moderator Country: UK batman's Avatar
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    My mate Paul is a stuntman and medieval re-enactor. he has done a lot of research in the archery and the longbow in particular. He believes the finger amputation theory to be true. He says the reason was, as maturin states, to invoke terror in the English bowmen. Paul also says that when he was in France he was shown a skeleton with the middle and fore finger removed and also some old carvings that show this practice occurring.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Country: UK EHV_Emmetts's Avatar
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    name='CaptainWaggett']It's not true according to Snopes. THough the proper Britmovie source would be The Longbow by Robert Hardy


    I recall seeing Robert Hardy present a documentary about this on CH4 a while ago. He claimed that the English archers who were captured by the French had their first two fingers cut off. In order to prove they still had the capability to fire their bows, the English archers would taunt the French soldiers by sticking their two fingers up.



    A few years later I was watching QI and this question arose. The host, Stephen Fry, dismissed the Robert Hardy view by suggesting that there was no historical evidence to prove this.

  7. #7
    Super Moderator Country: UK batman's Avatar
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    "The two-fingered ‘V’ sign insult originates from the era of the Hundred Years’ War?

    It comes from a French threat to amputate the distinctive calloused bow fingers of captured Welsh archers, as without those fingers they would be unable to draw their bows. Likewise the Welsh might have used it themselves as a gesture of provocation to the enemy."



    This comes from The National Army Museum website.



    "Historian Juliet Barker quotes Jean Le Fevre (who fought on the English side at Agincourt) as saying that Henry V included a reference to the French cutting off longbowmen's fingers in his pre-battle speech. If this is correct it confirms that the story was around at the time of Agincourt."



    From wikipedia.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Country: UK EHV_Emmetts's Avatar
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    Welsh archers?

  9. #9
    Super Moderator Country: UK batman's Avatar
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    Welsh archers were acknowledged at that time as being among the best in Britain .... they were prominent during The Battle of Agincourt and also at the Battle of Falkirk where William Wallace was defeated.

  10. #10
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    name='EHV_Emmetts']Welsh archers?


    Welsh archers were considred to be particularly skilful - it comes up a lot in Shakespeare's history plays. Funny, though I lived in rural mid-Wales for several years, I didn't notice more 'up yours bach' gestures there than in genteel Eastbourne....

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  12. #12
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    Final thought on this important topic before I get my train home: if the two-fingered salute came from the time of Agincourt, how come the Americans use the single finger version?

    Odd, huh?

  13. #13
    Super Moderator Country: UK batman's Avatar
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    name='maturin']Final thought on this important topic before I get my train home: if the two-fingered salute came from the time of Agincourt, how come the Americans use the single finger version?

    Odd, huh?


    "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[1] and reference is made to using the finger in the Ancient Greek comedyThe 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.[2] 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."



    From wikipedia.



    With the US being such a melting pot of imigration over the centuries I expect some form of 'the finger' was imported from Europe and then adapted for domestic use..

  14. #14
    Senior Member Country: Wales
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    Well I've got a theory....going by personal experience. But it's too rude to post.

  15. #15
    Super Moderator Country: UK batman's Avatar
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    name='Caine']Well I've got a theory....going by personal experience. But it's too rude to post.


    Send me a PM!

  16. #16
    Administrator Country: Wales Steve Crook's Avatar
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    Just because the two-fingered salute is much older than Agincourt that doesn't mean that it wasn't used at Agincourt and it also doesn't mean that the French threatened to cut off the fingers of any archers that they caught.



    The oldest recorded use of the V sign as an insult is in the Macclesfield Psalter (1330), nearly a century before Agincourt. And for it to be used in something like that implies that it was in common use and understood by everyone. So it had probably been around for many years before then



    Steve

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