The middle finger was in the news this week as M.I.A. flipped the bird during a US Super Bowl halftime performance.

What is it about this gesture that makes it obscene? How long has it been around? And what else does it mean?

UWA linguist Daniel Midgley goes digital on this episode of Talk the Talk.


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Show notes

Someone asked which t-shirt I was wearing, and since it’s been so long, I’ve forgotten. But I’ve got it narrowed down to two.
http://imgur.com/3dQyhEQ
If you haven’t heard of the second, it’s from the Broadway Musical “The Book of Mormon”. Search for it, but beware: Extreme blasphemy and language warning.

The story: M.I.A. flips the bird
Short video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8ceqCRO-go

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/feb/07/super-bowl-2012-mia-fine?newsfeed=true
http://au.eonline.com/news/ask_the_answer_bitch/mia_in_trouble_super_bowl_bird_flip/292432?cmpid=rss-000000-rssfeed-365-topstories&utm_source=eonline&utm_medium=rssfeeds&utm_campaign=rss_topstories

NBC and NFL apologise
http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1678571/mia-super-bowl-halftime-show-apology.jhtml

Madonna was unhappy about it
http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/10/us-madonna-mia-idUSTRE8191PX20120210

but she seemed to have no problem with profanity on Letterman in 1994.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_pxJtG4D4g

The dubious “pluck yew” etymology. Did I mention that this is wrong?
http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/bl-pluck-yew.htm

Diogenes and Demosthenes
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16916263

The epigrammist Martial wrote about the gesture around 86 CE.
http://www.well.com/~aquarius/martial.htm

The actor Pylades, banished from Rome for this gesture
http://www.funtrivia.com/askft/Question32139.html

Caligula (and a good rundown of the above).
http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1279/whats-the-origin-of-the-finger

The middle finger has other meanings in Algonquin languages.

What about ‘flipping the bird’?
http://www.yaelf.com/questions.shtml