Two fingers to Michael Buerk! You may have heard Buerk on BBC R4 Today this morning today trot out that #DeceivedWisdom about the British expletive V-sign (not the Winston Churchill victory version) being something to do with chopping off the fingers of French archers during the Battle of Agincourt. It is #DW = #BS.
For a start, Mediaevel longbows required more than two fingers to draw back, but more to the point, archers were the lowest of the low, common men, they were never taken prisoner to merely have their fingers chopped off as punishment, they would have been slaughtered on the spot. There’s more about the myth here from the BS Historian.
The DW has been debunked endlessly, e.g. in David Wilton’s “Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends”, Oxford University Press, 2008, but it persists because the likes of Buerk use it again and again.
I remember a book on body language and visual expletives got shown around when were were in junior school (aged 10). It discussed various gestures, including the V-sign, the two-finger salute mentioned above, and the Amercun flipping the bird. The erect middle finger Americans use is so obviously a phallic symbol meaning FO, but the uniquely British two-finger salute, which means the same thing is perhaps a little more subtle, perhaps alluding to legs akimbo. However, there are some people who don’t separate their index and middle finger in this gesture perhaps mimicking female external genitalia.
Incidentally, it was around about that age when I first saw the Ken Loach film Kes in which the actor David Bradley (not that one) sticks two fingers up to show his disdain of authority, and in particular his brother who [SPOILERS] kills the eponymous bird.
To be frank, there is no known etymology for the two-finger salute, just as the origin of the F word, is also unknown. Either way, if he keeps on with the deceived wisdom, Mr Buerk can go forth and multiply…