Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The History of The Middle Finger by Ginger Simpson

I was unable to validate the truth of this story, so I can only assume it's made up.  I searched for such gestures used in the old west, but found none.  I did notice that the woman in the picture seemed to be dressed somewhat for the old western era.  One would think the common "gun fight" was the solution to anger during that time, but that myth is debunked below. Still,  I did consider this cute and worthy of sharing since I'm going to tie it in with western history. Following what may be the mythical explanation, I'm going to provide the link to Wikipedia and the long history of the middle finger for your perusal.  I can only assume if someone did use the gesture in the old west, they might have said, "yee haw, muthah tucker."  You get my drift?

The story I received:

Before the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the French, anticipating victory over the English, proposed to cut off the middle finger of all captured English soldiers. Without the middle finger it would be impossible to draw the renowned English longbow and therefore they would be incapable of fighting in the future. This famous English longbow was made of the native English Yew tree, and the act of drawing the longbow was known as 'plucking the yew' (or 'pluck yew').

Much to the bewilderment of the French, the English won a major upset and began mocking the French by waving their middle fingers at the defeated French, saying, See, we can still pluck yew! Since 'pluck yew' is rather difficult to say, the difficult consonant cluster at the beginning has gradually changed to a labiodental fricative 'F', and thus the words often used in conjunction with the one-finger-salute! It is also because of the pheasant feathers on the arrows used with the longbow that the symbolic gesture is known as 'giving the bird.

And yew thought yew knew every plucking thing


As I said, I couldn't validate this was true, and it might be that someone with a great sense of humor concocted this version, however, I was amazed at the history presented on Wikipedia.  If you have time, check it out.  It's quite interesting:

To tie this in to the old west, and because I'm sick at the moment, I'm borrow the following from:  Prepare to have everything you believe about the old west trampled.  :(

1.  Settlers and Indians constantly clashed.
Reality:  Of the thousands who traveled west, very few met death at the hands of Indians.  According to research, only a small percentage met their demise in that manner compared to the thousands who died because of disease and trail accidents.  Although "circle the wagons" was an indication to prepare for battle, trains usually traveled spread across the land rather than in one single line, therefore it would have taken hours to form hundreds of wagons into what we often see in westerns.

2. Cowboys wore Cowboy Hats.
Reality: Most wore anything but.  Black hats were common and not a sign of the "bad guy" as most westerns portray.  Here is pictorial proof, all borrow from the site I mention above:
1880 Stetson looking more like Amish head covering

Wild Bill

Billy the Kid

3. Guns were plentiful in the Old West.
Reality:  Actually, gun control laws during the era were more strict than today.  Many towns posted signs prohibiting the carrying of fire arms, but of course, as today, there were always those who failed to follow the rules, as in the shootout at the OK Corral.  The distance and type of bullets used then varied a great deal from the handguns of today, and the supposed distance a bullet traveled was 50 feet maximum.  Rifles and Shotguns were the weapons of choice, but how often did you see two Cowboys meet in the streets and shoot it out with those?

4.  Bank Robbers were Rampant in the Old West.
Reality:  Research reveals that only eight actual heists took place compared to thousands in modern day.  The reason was probably the smallness of the towns and the fact that the bank was usually within a few doors of the Sheriff's office.  The most common targets were trains and stagecoaches because they were isolated and a lot less dangerous than robbing a bank and risking getting caught or shot dead.

5.  This one hurts.  Cowboys are an American Creation.
Reality:  Cowboys are older than American itself.  Mexican Vaqueros were the first to originate cattle drives, developed most of the lingo we associate with Cowboys, and wore the first "Cowboy" hat that resembles the Stetson we imagine on our heroes' heads.  They taught American Cowboy's most of what they knew, and in repayment, besides taking over the culture, the term "Vaquero" somehow became "buckeroo."

So, there you have it.  Spoilers that betray most of what we've seen in TV and Theatre westerns.  Kind of disappointing, isn't it?  Please visit the link I used to provide this post and read the accountings in their entirety.  I've paraphrased and the creators there who did the research and wrote the article did a superb job of backing up their "reality."

It's a good thing most of us write fiction and can use our author's creative license.  *smile*


Caroline Clemmons said...

Ginger, what a fun post. I'm sorry you're ill. I'm a bit under the weather right now (bladder infection) but you've been ill for quite a while. I hope you are recovering and will soon be up to your normal self. Well, normal is a setting on the washing machine, but you get what I mean.

Ellen O'Connell said...

I hope you feel better soon too, Ginger, and while that's a fun post, surely you had tongue in cheek. A pistol may only be accurate for most people up to about 50 feet, but the bullet travels a whole lot farther than that and some people are accurate up to more like 50 yards given the right conditions. There were some legendary shots at those kind of ranges with the old pistols by men like Hickok.

Rifles were and are a whole different story. Billy Dixon's famous shot at Adobe Wells was over half a mile with a Sharps buffalo gun. Gun experts have replicated that shot in modern times using the same model rifle.

Doc Holliday used a shotgun at the OK Corral. I bet a whole lot of men serious about killing at close range used a shotgun.

Ginger Jones Simpson said...

As I mentioned, I did this on the fly, so I didn't research a much as I wanted. I've been fighting bronchitis for almost three weeks now and I'm sick of it!

One site I did fail to share is


There is a lot of interesting info packed into that site.

Thanks to both of you for stopping by and commenting. I don't usually get many comments so I truly appreciate you took time.

Ciara Gold said...

Hope you feel better soon, Ginger. This was real cute and had me chuckling. I needed a bit of levity. Was at school all day trying to get ready for a new batch of kiddos.