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.
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:

NBC and NFL apologise

Madonna was unhappy about it

but she seemed to have no problem with profanity on Letterman in 1994.

The dubious “pluck yew” etymology. Did I mention that this is wrong?

Diogenes and Demosthenes

The epigrammist Martial wrote about the gesture around 86 CE.

The actor Pylades, banished from Rome for this gesture

Caligula (and a good rundown of the above).

The middle finger has other meanings in Algonquin languages.

What about ‘flipping the bird’?