Whether it's referred to as the middle finger, the finger salute, or a double-finger gesture, extending the digit has become one of the most universally recognized symbols of anger and contempt. There's even an art to it; the timing, angle and duration of your flick can make or break how effective it is. But who came up with the idea that showing someone the middle finger was bad?
The answer may surprise you. While there are many theories about how the middle finger became an insult, one of the most widely circulated is that English soldiers used it to mock the French after defeating them in battle. Historians disagree with this theory, saying the middle finger has a much more sinister history than that.
In Roman times, people extended the middle finger as a sign of indecency or shamelessness. The historian Tacitus wrote that German tribesmen gave the middle finger to advancing Roman soldiers, and an epigram by the poet Martial references this gesture in which "a shameless person extends one finger (the indecent finger) at three doctors."
In modern times, the middle finger has often been employed as a form of protest against governments and other powerful institutions. The gesture is also featured in contemporary political art, such as Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's photo depicting Tiananmen Square with the middle finger raised above the horizon. It has also been an important part of many sports taunts, including when NFL linebacker Bryan Cox aimed a pair at the Buffalo Bills before a 1993 game in New York.