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middle finger

[ mid-l fing-ger ]
/ ˈmɪd l ˈfɪŋ gər /
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noun
the finger between the forefinger and the third finger.
Slang. an obscene gesture of contempt made by pointing this finger upward while folding the other fingers against the palm; the finger: The driver honked his horn and got the middle finger from the biker.See also finger (def. 18).
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Origin of middle finger

First recorded before 1000; Middle English, Old English
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

ABOUT THIS WORD

What else does middle finger mean?

Giving someone the middle finger is an offensive gesture in which a person flips up their middle finger in a fist to show contempt or defiance.

Where does middle finger come from?

As a gesture, the exact origins of the middle finger are obscure, though there are some stories.

One story traces it back to the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. As the story goes, French soldiers would cut off the index and middle fingers of captured British archers, who needed them for slinging arrows. When the French failed to capture any bowmen, the British would flash those two precious digits to taunt their enemies while shouting “Pluck yew!” Their bows were made from the yew tree.

A good rule of thumb, er, middle finger: If an etymology sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Scholars instead note that the Ancient Greeks used the middle finger as a phallic symbol and the Romans called the finger the digitus impudicus, or “unchaste finger.” These meanings both imply a sexual aggression or dominance. Think about how we use the term dick or f*ck off as an insult today.

Whatever its origins, written reference to giving the middle finger dates back to the mid-1500s. Since then, the gesture, and spoken or written reference to it, has been a staple in Western culture to express anger and disgust to someone—a way of saying “f*ck you” without having to strain your voice, hence its great visibility in road rage.

The middle finger has stood in for an obscenity from politics to popular culture. In 1976, for instance, Vice President Nelson Rockefeller gave hecklers the middle finger at a New York campaign event.

Many popular movies have featured the finger or the bird, as the middle finger is often called, from Molly Ringwald in 1985’s The Breakfast Club to Neo in 1999’s The Matrix.

The middle finger has caused many a public controversy, too. During the 2012 Super Bowl halftime show, singer M.I.A. let the bird fly in a general act of self-expressive defiance. The NFL attempted to get over $16 million in damages from her at one point.

And, at the opening ceremonies to the 2018 World Cup, singer Robbie Williams gave the finger to millions viewing worldwide. He later claimed he meant it as a one-minute countdown to kickoff but he got all mixed up in the moment.

The Unicode Consortium finally allowed us to tell people off in texts and online since 2014, when it approved the middle finger emoji by popular demand.

How is middle finger used in real life?

The term middle finger is used in reference to the gesture, the nonverbal version of “f*ck off” so often delivered in road-raging cars or when walking away from a heat-of-the-moment spat at a sporting event.

The middle finger, in the flesh, is considered very obscene and offensive, though among friends, it can be issued more ironically and creatively.

It’s not a universally crude gesture, however. In many Islamic cultures, the thumbs up gesture is considered vulgar while the two-fingered V sign can communicate the choice sentiment in the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. Flip any of them the bird, however, and they’ll know exactly what you mean.

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use middle finger in a sentence

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