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Finger of defiance

Posted by Smokey Stover on November 30, 2007

In Reply to: Finger of defiance posted by Shirley on November 30, 2007

: What does "raise the finger of defiance" mean please?

In the U.S., that would almost certainly mean the gesture called "the finger," a gesture made with palm up and all fingers but the middle, or largest, finger, curled over, so that the middle finger is conspicuously pointing upwards. The Brits apparently have a two-finger gesture, and therefore don't have a "finger of defiance". I'm sorry to tell you this, Shirley, but it is generally supposed that the finger gesture, if translated into words, would be either "fuck you," or "up your ass." In American television programs, in order to meet FCC requirements, this gesture, along with mouths saying the words cited above, or certain naked parts of bodies, are blurred out, so indecent is the gesture thought to be by America's moral guardians.

To give someone the finger is a usage first reported by the OED from 1941, in Budd Schulberg's "What makes Sammy run," a book feared and anathematized by school librarians.

A synonym, also North American in origin (says the OED), is "to flip (someone) the bird." I had thought that usage to be British, as I've rarely heard the phrase spoken--and also because I have no idea how a bird is involved. (When I don't understand a phrase I usually think it must be British.)