How “Two Fingers” Became a Terrible Insult | by Andrei Tapalaga ✒️ | Apr, 2022

The history behind the V sign

Winston Churchill showing the V sign to the public (Source: Getty Images)

SSome people may confuse the two fingers or V sing for the peace sign, but this gesture represents no peace. Most commonly used in Great Britain, this gesture is said to have been used before the middle finger became mainstream. The V sign is seen as a more eloquent insult that has a lot more meaning behind it and it usually portrays one’s ability to kill his opponent or the poor ability to kill your enemy.

In a book entitled “Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends” written by David Wilton, the author is trying to figure out where this gesture originated and how its meaning got influenced differently by each generation over time. Wilton believes that the gesture was invented on October 25, 1415. During this late medieval era, the English and the French were at each other’s throats, seeing the most hateful period between these two nations in history.

The English managed to invade the northern part of France, but in their struggle to expand their military campaign, they suffered many casualties, leaving them with very few. All of the conquered lands needed to be protected and the English tried to spread their troops evenly across the area. English medieval archers are known to have been the best archers in history. Besides the heavy cavalry, the French and any other nation at war with England feared its archers the most.

This feud took place during the Hundred Years’ War between the English and the French. One of the most notable battles within this century of war was the battle of Agincourt where the English were outnumbered at least 3/1. This battle took place near the town of Agincourt, in the northern part of France. The English were very low on supplies and were on their way to Calais to escape France.

King Henry V was leading an army made up of 8,000 well-trained soldiers, most of whom were archers. Against 30,000 French soldiers that were wearing steel armor, making it more difficult to get an instant kill with arrows. Once the battle started, the French troops landed in the trap that the English laid, hiding most of their archers and forcing the French to attack them on a field where the archers could unleash hell. Just imagine 6,000 arrows raining from the sky.

13th century English Longbowman

During the battle, the French managed to take some archers as prisoners. What they did was not kill them, but cut the middle and index fingers which they used to draw the string on the bow. Making them unable to fight using a bow. During the battle, the French tried different tactics, but the archers managed to kill most of the French army. With Henry V’s great military leadership and the expertise of the English archers, the battle was won by the English despite the odds.

The English archers would follow to show two fingers to French soldiers, showing them that they are useless because they still have their two fingers to draw the bow on eventually killing them. This was an insult that became more mainstream throughout the medieval feud between England and France. David Wilton and some other historians argue that there is even a representation within medieval manuscripts of archers showing the fingers, but this is still very debated.

A medieval manuscript page that appears to depict an archery instructor pointing at a butt, not doing a two-finger salute (Source: The British Library, Add MS 42130, f. 147v)

Some say that the two-finger gesture was created between English archers as a joke, to anger French soldiers and draw them in the sight of English bows. Without any historical records to really justify this, it is hard to tell exactly by whom this gesture was created. What we know for sure is that it still has a lot of meaning, especially for French people who would probably not be happy having two fingers pointed at them.

As centuries passed and the English started to colonize other parts of the world, the gesture also spread throughout the world and had become more commonly known. To some, it may not seem like a terrible insult, but if you end up going to a French bar, they will surely have intentions of cutting some fingers after being shown some. This links back very much with the emotions behind their historical culture.

There was a scandal in 1945 with Winston Churchill who used the two fingers publicly. He said that he wanted to represent victory by doing the V sign, but people had not forgotten history. Some say that was his way of saying “England had once again prevailed versus European nations”, but everyone takes it in their own context.

Even if the feud is long over, history is not forgotten, just like how French people are sometimes reminded about a white flag, representing their easy surrender to the German forces during World War II. So be cautious when pointing those fingers.

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