In Reply to: Pull your finger out posted by Simon Burlison on August 14, 2008 at 07:38:
: With ref to the phrase 'Pull your finger out', I was told by my Grandfather A former Major in the British army that the phrase goes back to the English civil war and musketeers, who w h o r e fingers of gunpowder round there necks and on sword belts and it was a command to action! one finger of powder per shot the musketeers would have the gunpowder pre measured into fingers so as to keep it dry and speed up the loading proses to much or too little gunpowder would be disastrous he said the command is recorded in army history.
I'm sorry to have to tell you that everything your grandfather told you was utterly untrue.
- The phrase doesn't go back to the English Civil War or anything like it. It is British Armed Forces slang first recorded in the 1930s and refers to the supposed obscene recreational activities of the person addressed, as in the traditional British military accusation of "standing around, thumbs in bums and minds in neutral".
- The little wooden bottles slung from the bandoleer of the 17th-century musketeer which held pre-measured charges of powder were normally called "apostles" (because there were normally 12 of them), not "fingers".
- Too much or too little gunpowder wouldn't have been "disastrous"; a few grains more or less than the optimum charge makes little difference when firing a black powder weapon. The apostles were used for speed and convenience; if you didn't have them, or if you used them all up in action, you could perfectly well load from a powder-horn, measuring the charge by eye.
- The command is most certainly NOT recorded in army history. In fact neither side in the English Civil War had an official drill-book, but a number of privately-published drill-books of the period survive, and nothing remotely like 'Pull your finger out' appears in them. You can find a genuine sequence of matchlock loading commands here: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/Mark_Gist/musket.htm.
At least your grandfather's story doesn't involve a physical impossibility, unlike the much more widespread fantasy tale about gunners sticking their fingers down the touch-hole of their cannon! (VSD)