How Did The Middle Finger Become Offensive?

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247 News Around The World
247 News Around The World

We know that in 4th-century Athens, a philosopher named Diogenes raised his middle finger to Demosthenes, calling the orator “the great demagogue” (via BBC). In a play at about the same time, “The Cloud” by Aristophanes, a character connects the sign with the penis when he gives the finger and then gestures with his member. The finger was representative of the phallus and the knuckles were the testicles, and their presentation was meant to say that the receiver was offering people nothing but a penis, rather than a sound argument, moral guidance, noble truths, or any other positive thing.

In other words, the finger was always offensive. The Romans, who shared the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas with the Greeks, and later conquered them, copied and adopted much from their culture, and this may have included the bird. According to Vice, Emperor Caligula had subjects kiss his swaying middle finger instead of his hand, connoting oral sex. As the BBC notes, the Romans dubbed the gesture digitus impudicus, the “indecent finger.” Poets like Martial featured it in their works, and the historian Tacitus recorded that its use spread to the German tribes, who displayed it in defiance of Rome’s legions.

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