Just received this tale from my friend Brian in Florida — rather amusing info on givng the bird and a possible origin of the ‘F’ word. Perhaps we can get confirmation of this tale via Delegatrix’s friend Jesse Sheidlower, head of the Oxford English Dictionary’s North American unit and author of “The F Word.” Stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed, else “pluck Yew”.
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 weapon 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! “PLUCK YEW!” Since ‘pluck yew’ is rather difficult to say, the difficult consonant cluster at the beginning has gradually changed to a labiodental 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 long bow that the symbolic gesture is known as “giving the bird.”