Pluck Yew (Origin of 'The Finger')


  • 2019 2018 2017 '16

    Pluck Yew (Origin of ‘The Finger’)
    ‘Pluck Yew’ – how one of the most popular curses in the English language, not to mention a certain profane gesture involving the middle finger, supposedly originated as a medieval battlefield taunt.

    The ‘Car Talk’ show (on NPR) with Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, have a feature called the ‘Puzzler’. Their most recent “Puzzler” was about the Battle of Agincourt. The French, who were overwhelmingly favored to win the battle, threatened to cut a certain body part off of all captured English soldiers so that they could never fight again. The English won in a major upset and waved the body part in question at the French in defiance. The puzzler was: What was this body part? This is the answer submitted by a listener:

    Dear Click and Clack,

    Thank you for the Agincourt ‘Puzzler’, which clears up some profound questions of etymology, folklore and emotional symbolism. The body part which the French proposed to cut off of the English after defeating them was, of course, the middle finger, without which it is impossible to draw the renowned English longbow. This famous weapon was made of the native English yew tree, and so the act of drawing the longbow was known as “plucking yew”. Thus, when the victorious English waved their middle fingers at the defeated French, they said, “See, we can still pluck yew! PLUCK YEW!”

    Over the years some ‘folk etymologies’ have grown up around this symbolic gesture. Since “pluck yew” is rather difficult to say (like “pleasant mother pheasant plucker”, which is who you had to go to for the feathers used on the arrows), 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 are mistakenly thought to have something to do with an intimate encounter. It is also because of the pheasant feathers on the arrows that the symbolic gesture is known as “giving the bird”.

    So, Pluck Yew, simply as that ??
    I allways wondered where this gesture came from and what it former meant.
    If this topic is unpleasant, then let me simply know and I will delete it, I don’t want to offend anybody!


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 '13 Moderator

    Pluck Yew you will!


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    @aequitas:

    a certain profane gesture involving the middle finger, supposedly originated as a medieval battlefield  taunt.

    It’s my understanding that “the finger” is a gesture of much more ancient origin, as implied (if I’m not mistaken) by the fact that the Romans referred to the middle finger as the “digitus impudicus”.  Given the Roman practice of giving thumbs-up / thumbs-down signals at gladiatorial fights, I can well believe that they would have found similar creative uses for other digits.



  • @aequitas:

    Pluck Yew (Origin of ‘The Finger’)
    ‘Pluck Yew’ – how one of the most popular curses in the English language, not to mention a certain profane gesture involving the middle finger, supposedly originated as a medieval battlefield taunt.

    The ‘Car Talk’ show (on NPR) with Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, have a feature called the ‘Puzzler’. Their most recent “Puzzler” was about the Battle of Agincourt. The French, who were overwhelmingly favored to win the battle, threatened to cut a certain body part off of all captured English soldiers so that they could never fight again. The English won in a major upset and waved the body part in question at the French in defiance. The puzzler was: What was this body part? This is the answer submitted by a listener:

    Dear Click and Clack,

    Thank you for the Agincourt ‘Puzzler’, which clears up some profound questions of etymology, folklore and emotional symbolism. The body part which the French proposed to cut off of the English after defeating them was, of course, the middle finger, without which it is impossible to draw the renowned English longbow. This famous weapon was made of the native English yew tree, and so the act of drawing the longbow was known as “plucking yew”. Thus, when the victorious English waved their middle fingers at the defeated French, they said, “See, we can still pluck yew! PLUCK YEW!”

    Over the years some ‘folk etymologies’ have grown up around this symbolic gesture. Since “pluck yew” is rather difficult to say (like “pleasant mother pheasant plucker”, which is who you had to go to for the feathers used on the arrows), 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 are mistakenly thought to have something to do with an intimate encounter. It is also because of the pheasant feathers on the arrows that the symbolic gesture is known as “giving the bird”.

    So, Pluck Yew, simply as that ??
    I allways wondered where this gesture came from and what it former meant.
    If this topic is unpleasant, then let me simply know and I will delete it, I don’t want to offend anybody!

    This sounds like a joke, although a well crafted one, and one that sounds entirely appropriate to the atmosphere of Car Talk.

    AFAIK, the “F” word came from German - Frick, if I recall correctly, which means to strike.  Although, English originally evolved from German, so…


  • 2019 2018 2017 '16

    What makes you think “frick” is a german word and means to strike?



  • The finger as a lewd gesture has been around since antiquity.

    “The Cynic philosopher Diogenes, pictured by Gérôme with the large jar in which he lived; when strangers at the inn were expressing their wish to catch sight of the great orator Demosthenes, Diogenes is said to have stuck out his middle finger and exclaimed ‘this, for you, is the demagogue of the Athenians’”-The Pedia of Wiki



  • @aequitas:

    What makes you think “frick” is a german word and means to strike?

    I’m just going off the top of my head.  It’s either that or something similar.


  • 2019 2018 2017 '16

    @Jermofoot:

    @aequitas:

    What makes you think “frick” is a german word and means to strike?

    I’m just going off the top of my head.  It’s either that or something similar.

    I’m allways up for something new to learn, but could not find the origin of frick yet.



  • @aequitas:

    @Jermofoot:

    @aequitas:

    What makes you think “frick” is a german word and means to strike?

    I’m just going off the top of my head.�  It’s either that or something similar.

    I’m allways up for something new to learn, but could not find the origin of frick yet.

    If I wasn’t at work, you would have already gotten some info on the origin of the F-word.  😉


  • 2019 2018 2017 '16

    No, no ,no…i wasn`t taliking about the F - word at all, instead I talked about the word frick you mentioned.


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