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Flipping the bird

Posted by R. Berg on January 08, 2002 at

In Reply to: Flipping the bird posted by ESC on January 08, 2002

: : Where does the phrase "flipping someone the bird" come from?

: I couldn't find anything on the use of "bird" for finger in this phrase.

The following, from Eric Partridge's "Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English," may be relevant although it makes no mention of the hand gesture. To give someone the bird is "to dismiss [him], send him about his business . . . late C. 19-20. [From] the theatre . . . In Australia, 'give the bird' is to treat with derision: from before 1916."
In obsolete theatrical usage (Partridge gives a date of 1883), "the bird" is defined as "a hissing of an actor," from the sound made by geese.