A couple months ago, I witnessed a group photo taken at the factory’s lobby. A local lad made a reverse V sign during the photo-shoot. This ticked off a rather elderly white man (I don’t know whether he is English or American, I suspect English, you’ll see why later) in the group for his smile disappeared after seeing this gesture. I knew why he was unhappy, but that local lad didn’t seem to know.
I always thought that if I know something, then that thing must be a common knowledge known by many. Sometimes, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Apparently the reverse V sign is one such case.
So today, I shall do a simple write up about the V sign.
First, let’s take a look at the universal V sign, as demonstrated by Tony “I am Ironman” Stark.
Now this is the universal sign of peace. Or victory. This is a good hand gesture to make.
Then we have some hippies who, since who-knows-when, started doing the reverse V sign.
Now this, is not a hippie version of the symbol of peace. This is not a cool way to show the symbol of peace. In fact, this is totally NOT cool, like, at all. Because, this, is a gesture to tell someone to “FUCK OFF!“…
There is a story of origin to this gesture. I’m not sure how historically true it is, because I learned this story not from History lessons, but from English lessons during my days at the British Council. But I am going to tell you anyway…
You see, the English and the French used to go to war, a lot. One of the worst Anglo-French wars was the Hundred Years’ War, which was a series of battles fought in the Medieval Ages for more than (yes) a hundred years. It was a very intense war which involved the English and French conquering and counter-conquering each other. This is one of the reasons why we speculate that the French hate the English so much even to this day.
This happened at a time when guns and cannons were not widely used in Europe yet. The English had a weapon that is superior to the French: the longbow.
It was a type of bow longer than the normal bow that the French used, so the draw was longer and resulting arrows shot were much more powerful and was able to penetrate French armors. Of course, this longbow requires extremely skilled archers to be able to use effectively, so the elite archers were like rock stars back then.
It was a weapon that the English used to great effect as they swept across France. And then France fought back with some smart tactical moves and drove the English out of their lands and back to England. The French took many English soldiers as prisoners. You know what they did? The French were so afraid of the longbow that they chopped off the index fingers and middle fingers of all those captured English soldiers, because those two fingers were the fingers required to draw the longbow.
As the English went back to England, it was the French’s turn to want to invade England. They frequently sent spy boats across the English Channel (the sea between France and England) to look for perfect spots to land their ambush army. The English though, they were ready for imminent attacks. They had their longbow archers stationed across coast facing France. Every time a French spy boat neared them, they would show their two fingers (in the reverse V sign) towards the boat as a gesture of defiance.
In my English teacher’s words: They would show the French spies the two fingers as a gesture to tell them to: “F… Go away, go home! We still have our fingers to shoot from our bows!”
I know she wanted to say (and the English soldiers probably really said this anyway) to: “Fuck off! Or we’ll use these two fingers to shoot your testicles off your penis!“. But she can’t say it, not to so many docile and innocent young minds (like me) sitting in the classroom. It makes sense, right? Soldiers are not supposed to be docile and innocent young minds so it is fine anyway.
So, anyway, that’s how this reverse V sign came about, and that’s why it means “Fuck off!” rather than peace or victory. And if you show that gesture in front of an Englishman (or maybe French as well), he might think that you are telling him to f… go away, go home. It is a very rude hand gesture to make. Don’t do it!