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>>>>>> This was sent to me and I thought I would pass it along: <<<<<<
Historical and Etymological Origins of an Infamous Anglo-Saxon Gesture
The 'Car Talk' show (on NPR) with Click and Clack, the Tappet
Brothers, has a feature called the 'Puzzler', and their most recent
'Puzzler' was about the Battle of Agincourt. The French, who were
overwhelmingly favoured to win the battle, threatened to cut a certain body
part off of all captured English soldiers so that they could never fight
again. The English won in a major upset and waved the body part in
question at the French in defiance. The puzzler was:
What was this body part?
This is the answer submitted by a listener:
Dear Click and Clack,
Thank you for the Agincourt 'Puzzler', which clears up some profound
questions of etymology, folklore and emotional symbolism. The body part
which the French proposed to cut off of the English after defeating them
was, of course, the middle finger, without which it is impossible to draw
the renowned English longbow.
This famous weapon was made of the native English yew tree, and so
the act of drawing the longbow was known as "plucking yew". Thus, when the
victorious English waved their middle fingers at the defeated French, they
said, "See, we can still pluck yew! PLUCK YEW!"
Over the years some 'folk etymologies' have grown up around this
symbolic gesture. Since 'pluck yew' is rather difficult to say (like
"pleasant mother pheasant plucker", which is who you had to go to for the
feathers used on the arrows), 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 are
mistakenly thought to have something to do with an intimate encounter. It
is also because of the pheasant feathers on the arrows that the symbolic
gesture is known as "giving the bird".
Brian Myers, an American in Cape Town. To join a virtual campfire of story-
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