We’ve all been ‘flipped off’ at one time or another. Have you ever wondered where this obscene gesture came from? I discuss this in this 2-minute video.

MUSINGS 001 from Mike Licona on Vimeo.

    21 replies to "Musings: Flipping the Bird"

    • Daniel Eaton

      Love to see you posting here, Mike! And great advice since those that practice those gestures often do it to seen hip! LOL

    • Mike Licona

      Thanks, Daniel. I wanted to try something different.

    • Matt Anthony

      Liked the video but the closing music played over the end of your comments. It was like you were a long- winded winner at the Oscars and the orchestra was playing you off. Maybe you should flip off the conductor.

    • Mike Licona

      Matt: It was my first attempt at making a video. I’ve got much to learn.

    • Steve Martin

      You learn something new everyday.

      Thanks for info.

    • […] on the historical origins of flipping people off.  Here’s the video, as it appears on the Parchment & Pen Blog: http://www

      Tags: humor, Michael LiconaPosted in humor, Michael LiconaLeave a […]

    • Aaron Walton

      You are posting in a forum that doesn’t lack academics: Would you be willing to site your sources? 😛 I am specifically interested in the reference to Augustus’ banning of the actor.

    • Mike Licona

      Aaron: Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, Augustus, XLV

    • SteveZ

      Thanks, you made me laugh. The translation I found said the actor pointed his finger AT the spectator. If is was “the bird” shouldn’t it have been a bit more heavenward?

    • Mike Licona

      SteveZ: Unfortunately, I can’t read Latin. The translation by Robert Graves (1979) in the Penguin Classics version reads, “[Augustus] expelled Pylades not only from Rome, but from Italy too, because when a spectator started to hiss, he called the attention of the whole audience to him with an obscene movement of his middle finger” (81).

      In the version offered by the Loeb Classical Library, J. C. Rolfe (1913) and the translation revised by Donna W. Hurley (1998), it reads, “Pylades was expelled from the city and from Italy as well, because by pointing at him with his finger (footnote) he turned all eyes upon a spectator who was hissing him” (225). The footnote appears on 224, “That is, his middle finger, infamis digitus, it implied a charge of obscenity; cf. Calig. ivi. 2.”

    • Aaron Walton

      Mike, thank you for giving that information and clarifying that. It is interesting what information makes it down to us from ancient days; this will probably go down as one of my favorite… may God forbid that the only thing recorded in history about any of us should be a biographical note such as that one!

      Similar your “bird” comments, my nephew (about 9y.o.) boasted that he could burp on command; I crushed his pride by telling him that every man in the history of the world has been able to do that. Saint Augustin even reports that “Some have such command of their bowels, that they can break wind continuously at pleasure, so as to produce the effect of singing” (The City of God, XIV.24).

      Some reason it still seems to surprise me that people throughout history haven’t changed all that much.

    • Jeremy O

      The Latin reads: quod spectatorem, a quo exsibilabatur, demonstrasset digito conspicuumque fecisset. It simply translates as,

      “Because he had caused a scene with the spectator, who hissed at him, and had shown [him] his finger (or, had demonstrated with his finger).”

      By the way, I’m surprised at how many bible scholars out there who don’t know Latin. I think it should be a requirement for NT concentrations, myself. 🙂

    • Saaib Ahmed

      Though I am a Muslim but I am a big fan of yours, Mike…. 😀 😀

    • Mike Licona

      Jeremy O: I agree that students of the NT such as myself would benefit from learning Latin. However, there are many things from which we could benefit. One wonders if the time and effort needed to learn Latin may be more profitably spent in other endeavors, such as a greater mastery of Greek and a greater familiarity with all of the literature of that era.

      The three translators I mentioned earlier know Latin well as well as the context in which the literature was penned. They all appear to think that pointing the finger at someone in that context in antiquity was an idiom. It would seem odd for the actor to have been banished for merely pointing at someone hissing at him. However, if the pointing with his finger was done in an obscene manner, Suetonius’ report makes greater sense.

      Liddell-Scott states that the middle finger was used as an obscene gesture. Pollianus Epigrammaticus 2.184 is listed in support (907). So, perhaps “pointing the finger” was similar to us saying “gave him the finger.”

    • Mike Licona

      Saaib: Thanks for your kind words. I’m curious why, being a Muslim, you think so positively of me.

    • Jeremy O

      Mike, I wasn’t disagreeing, but I was simply giving a literal translation. I’m sure it was indeed an obscenity. Thanks for your comments.

    • Saaib Ahmed

      Can’t one be a fan of a person with whom he may differ on certain issues. When it comes to me admiring you, i don’t admire you as a christian. I admire you because you are a christian scholar and/or apologist. The friendly gesture you showed in resurrection debate with Mr. Ally was awesum, I never felt it was a christian muslim dialogue, it was always a scholarly discussion. As a muslim we have been told to give importance to education, islam brought with it an idea of learning and why shouldn’t i learn from you if you are willing to teach me “with wisdom and beautiful preaching, in the ways which is best” (This is a quranic phrase which tells us how to argue). Your debate with Mr. Ehrman was also nice. I learn’t a lot from it. At least they (the two debates) made me to surf internet and search what exactly josephus, tacitus had to say.

      I am from Indian occupied kashmir. Please don’t mind if i am ruining english, it is not my mother tongue. 😀 😀 😀

    • Mike Licona

      You are very kind, Saaib. I appreciate your informative comments. They are helpful to me.

      No problem with your broken English. It tells me you know one language more than me 🙂

    • Saaib Ahmed

      Can I know of any other debate of yours with any Muslim. These comments are going of topic now and thats not good for a blog. I don’t have your mail id, or else i would have mailed. You can reply at [email protected] if you don’t want me ruin your post with off topic comments (and with my broken english).

      I am too much excited, can’t believe that I am really interacting with you.

      May Allah (swt) guide us.

    • Clare Krishan

      Theresa of Avila wrote of using the mano fica (fig) gesture as instructed by her spiritual director to ward off what he thought were evil spirits (but were actually her intimate inner interlocutions with Jesus) see:

    • david bartosik

      ha! thats SO 2000 years ago…and I couldn’t help but laugh as you continued to call it “the birdie”…pretty random, but well done!

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