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"I couldn't give a fig"

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on April 11, 2006

In Reply to: "I couldn't give a fig" posted by James Briggs on April 11, 2006

: : : "I couldn't give a fig" - where does this come from, and why figs?

: : If you don't care a pickle or a fig, you may grow up to be a pig. Stifle that temptation to see "fig" in this phrase as a euphemism for another word that starts with the same letter. The OED has this: ". a. As a type of anything small, valueless, or contemptible; also, a dried fig; a fig's end. In phrases: never a fig = not at all; (to bid, care, give) a fig, or fig's end for; to mind, value (a person or thing), be worth a fig or fig's end." This usage of fig goes back to the earliest days of modern English (or the end of Middle English). To care a fig is to care almost nothing; not to care a fig, or give a fig, is to care nothing at all. SS

: The saying is based on the Spanish Fico (= Fig) which gave its name to a traditional gesture of contempt made by placing the thumb between the first and second fingers. The gesture was common in Shakespeare's time and was known as The Fig of Spain. The modern-day equivalent, at least in the UK, is the "V" sign.

JB's post is nearly correct, as far as it goes; but the full explanation is a bit more complicated, and ruder, than that. Making the Fig of Spain is called in Spanish "dar una higa". But the Spanish for "fig" is "not "higa" but "higo". There is a pun here, because "higa" means the female genitals - which is what the thumb peeping out between the fingers of the closed fist is meant to represent. Exactly the same gesture and phrase occur in Italy: Italians call making the gesture "far fica", but in polite speech it is bowdlerised to "fico", fig, as in "Non vale un fico" (it's not worth a fig). Polite Spaniards also bowdlerise it, as in "non darsele un higo" (not to care a fig)