Where Does the Middle Finger Sign Come From? Origin and Meaning of the Middle Finger

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Contrary to popular belief, middle finger sign has been used by humanity since ancient times. The middle finger sign, which has both negative and positive meanings, has preserved its negative meaning until today. It is offensive to show the middle finger, especially in those who are not familiar with western culture. Since this sign is a product of Roman culture, it was also very popular on the coasts of our country. There are also many untrue myths about the middle finger sign. In this content, we take a closer look in the light of historical information. Where does the middle finger sign come from? 

How did the middle finger sign come about?

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The emergence of the middle finger sign dates back to BC. This sign, which came to the United States in the late 1800s and appeared frequently in popular culture, was mostly used in a negative sense. First, when we look at the oldest known trace of the middle finger sign, we see that it’s Ancient Greece turns out. Middle finger sign in Ancient Greece was called catapygon. However, the people did not show this sign to each other at that time. The middle finger mostly appeared in comedies written in Ancient Greece.

Written by Aristophanes in 423 BC, The Clouds is one of the first comedies with the middle finger sign. In the game, the character of the philosopher Socrates comes across the middle finger when giving an oral exam to a student. Socrates asks Strepsiades for poetic measures. Strepsiades says he knows the dactyl size very well and shows Socrates his middle finger. Dactyl, on the other hand, means finger in ancient Greek and is the name of a poetic measure consisting of one long and two short sentences. The real importance of the dactyl measure appears in medieval Latin texts. Because this size resembles a penis due to its appearance and is used offensively.


One of the most famous users of the middle finger sign in Ancient Greece is happening Diogenes. This famous thinker, also known as Diogenes of Sinop and said he had lived in a large barrel, is one of the names who frequently uses his middle finger. In fact, Diogenes did not hesitate to show his middle finger even to the famous politician of the time, Dimosthenis.

Symbolism of the middle finger sign:

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We mentioned that the size of the Dactyl resembles a penis. That alone tells us a lot about the symbolism of the middle finger sign. In these times before Christ middle finger sign appears as a phallus, a sign of a penis. Since the longest finger we have is the middle finger, the phallus, the depiction of masculine power, is shown with this finger. The index and ring fingers next to the middle finger represent the testicles. So in summary, the middle finger appears in Ancient Greece as one of the first symbolic insults related to the masculine language. With the middle finger, you fundamentally threaten the other person with your masculinity.

Middle finger sign and Ancient Rome:

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In ancient rome, the middle finger sign was used by both the Romans and the northern tribes. If we look at the lands where Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire spread, we can see that this sign is actually synonymous with our geography. Because it is possible to come across this sign in almost all of the communities that have a coast on the Mediterranean. But in the first century AD, the middle finger was also a gesture against the evil eye.

The middle finger was used by many communities to ward off the “evil eye”. At the same time, the myth of the middle finger therefore goes hand in hand with the myth of the evil eye bead. Latin name for the middle finger sign used by the Romans passes as digitus impudicus. In Roman works published in the first century AD, the middle finger was mostly used by fake exorcists as part of their rituals.

However, the poet Martial, who was a master of dark humor and criticism, also lived in the same period used the middle finger sign in its original meaning. Even Martial,”If anyone calls you homosexual, show them your middle finger.” he also wrote the lyrics. The Roman historian Tacitus, who also lived in this period, mentions the middle finger in his writings. He even recorded that German tribes fighting with Roman soldiers used the middle finger sign.

How did the middle finger sign spread around the world?

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We can say that one of the most obvious reasons why the middle finger sign is so famous around the world is the lands ruled by Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. But if we look ideologically and etymologically, it is possible that the middle finger sign appeared spontaneously in many primitive tribes. Because almost all social communities in the world were communicating based on sign language in the early period. Considering that the phallus, that is, the penis, also represents power in these communities, the phallus depiction can best be made with the middle finger, in a way of communication based on the symbolism we have established using the hands.

The middle finger mark is spreading to wider geographies primarily thanks to Byzantine Empire. Because a Byzantine writer named Suidas writes the biggest linguistic encyclopedia of his time. In this work, which is called Suda, the meaning and origin of 30 thousand Greek words are found. Another name that plays a role in spreading the middle finger around the world is Erasmus. Erasmus, one of the greatest scholars in history, includes the middle finger mark in his collection Adagia, where he combines Greek and Latin proverbs.

Journey of the middle finger sign to the USA:

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Linguist Jesse Sheidlower has done quite a bit of research into the US origins of the middle finger sign. In the light of these researches, anthropologist Desmond Morris made a claim. Allegedly, the middle finger sign was probably brought to the United States by Italian immigrants. The first photograph in which the middle finger is seen in the USA is at a baseball game has been taken. Old Hoss Radbourn, the Shooter on the Boston Beaneaters team, uses the sign. In 1886, Radbourn photographed him showing the middle finger to the players of the opposing New York Giants.

Misunderstood myth about the middle finger sign:

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Recently, a myth has been circulating on the Internet about the middle finger sign. In fact, this myth, which is again related to the finger, has been incorrectly attributed to the etymology of the middle finger. This middle finger myth, which appears on almost all content sites, does not reflect the truth. So what is this middle finger myth? According to this myth, which appeared on social media on many content sites, the middle finger mark appeared by the English in 1415.

Allegedly, during the Hundred Years’ War between France and England, English archers were using it against their enemies as an insult, as English archers shot the arrow with their middle finger and the French cut off the middle fingers of British prisoners. In fact, these archers played a major role in winning the Battle of Agincourt.

Yes, English longbow archers are known to have played a large part in the Battle of Agincourt. But as we mentioned in our content, the middle finger has nothing to do with British archers or the Hundred Years’ War. During these battles, British archers used their index and middle fingers to stretch their long bows. For this reason, British archers used a V-shaped sign with two fingers pointing, similar to today’s peace sign. The French, on the other hand, would cut off these two fingers of the English archers they captured.

What does the middle finger sign mean today?

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Nowadays, the middle finger sign has evolved towards a more protest symbol, although it is still quite offensive. Artists, especially those who perform protest works, have adopted the middle finger sign. Thanks to this, the sign has become more of a protest movement than a masculine insult, more like a sign of peace. Today we come across the middle finger mark in numerous films, serials, music videos and works of art. We also use the middle finger mark frequently in our daily lives. In fact, Freud probably would have had a lot to say about women using this sign in the context of “penis envy” and the subconscious. But in the time of Freud, the middle finger sign was not as popular in Europe as it is today.

Source: 1st , 2nd3rd

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