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The 'v' sign

Posted by Lewis on January 20, 2003

In Reply to: The 'v' sign posted by James Briggs on January 19, 2003

: : Perhaps the most common British phrase , even if it is not spoken but indicated by raising two spread fingers in a similar fashion and meaning two the American 'one finger salute'.
: : It is said to have originated during the Napoleonic wars when Napoleon so frustrated with the devastating effect the British archers were having in battle that he promised that any captured British archer would have his two firing fingers chopped off , in defiance the British archers stood on a hill and raised two fingers in the direction of the enemy soldiers and shouted F**k off thus connecting the word and the sign.

: Although he certain origin is unknown, a highly likely basis takes us back to the Hundred Years' War between England and France in the 14th and 15th centuries - much earlier than Napoleon, by which time archers were virtually redundant! Captured 'English' archers who, it seems, were actually mainly Welsh, had the first two fingers of their right hand cut off so that they couldn't take part in future battles. As a defiant riposte, after felling a French soldier with an arrow, an archer would raise his two fingers, just to show that he was still in the game. The battle where this first happened was likely to have been Crécy in 1346.

Bearing in mind that the main advantage of the English long-bow (not yet called that) over the cross-bow (used by the French) was the rapid rate of fire, it is most unlikely that English archers took the time to raise the V after successful shots. It is true that the French cut off the fingers as retaliation, the gesture itself was used to taunt, but not in the midle of a fire-fight. The rate of fire was so great that the archer could unleash a second arrow before the first had struck. Whilst some of the companies of archers were (like some of my forebears) Welsh, it was an English enthusiasm comprarable to the level of football and there was a greater pool of talent in England. I may need to stand corrected, but I believe that due to their slightly smaller average height, the Welsh bow was not necessarily the very long English yew long-bow.
Napoleon Bonaparte was campaigning around 1800+/-15 years and the prevalent weapons were the musket, cannon and cavalry sabre. Bows were not used en masse after the use of muskets became prevalent, several hundred years before the Napoleonic era, but the two-fingered taunt remain(ed/s) popular.