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  • I only just heard the rumor—legend—whatever last weekend that the traditional insulting gesture of two fingers in the V-sign (with the back of the hand facing outward) may have originated with archers in medieval England/France. The French would cut off the middle finger or first two fingers of any English/Welsh longbowman they captured—so the story goes—and to taunt them, said archers would wave their two fingers, still firmly attached to their hands. I thought, "well, that's interesting... but probably it's a crock." And then found the following on this Wikipedia page (interestingly, I was linked there from the "English longbow" entry):


    An early recorded use of the 'two-fingered salute' is in the Macclesfield Psalter of c.1330 (in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge), being made by a glove in the psalter’s marginalia.5

    The belief that the V sign originated among archers might have its origin in the work of the historian Jean Froissart (c. 1337-c. 1404). In his "Chronicles", he recounts a story of the English waving their fingers at the French during a siege of a castle, however he makes no reference to which fingers were used.citation needed

    According to a popular legend the two-fingers salute and/or V sign derives from the gestures of longbowmen fighting in the English army at the Battle of Agincourt (1415) during the Hundred Years' War.513 The story claims that the French cut off the index and middle fingers of the right hand of any captured archers, and so the gesture was a sign of defiance from the greatly outnumbered English. Historian Juliet Barker quotes Jean Le Fevre (who fought on the English side at Agincourt) as saying that Henry V included a reference to the French cutting off longbowmen's fingers in his pre-battle speech.14 If this is correct it confirms that the story was around at the time of Agincourt, although it doesn't necessarily mean that the French practised it, just that Henry found it useful for propaganda, and it does not show that the 'two-fingers salute' is derived from the hypothetical behaviour of English archers at that battle.

    The first definitive known reference to the ‘V-sign’ in French is in the works of François Rabelais, a sixteenth-century satirist."5"

    June 13, 2008