The middle finger happens to be our oldest and the most common of insulting gestures. Before you and I were liberally handing out the highway digit on our nation’s roads, the Romans and medieval Europeans were merrily using the digitus impudicus or digitus infamis (indecent or infamous digit). Roman emperor and sexual pervert Caligula often handed out his middle finger to be kissed by his enemies. It was all fun and games until he got stabbed in the neck by one of his enemies.
Before the Romans, an Athenian comedian by the name of Aristophanes provided the earliest literary reference to the gesture – he created a feisty character who gave Socrates the finger. There is only so much philosophy one can take before it gets irritating.
Along with the Romans and Athenians, the Arabs and Russians contributed to the universal appeal of the middle finger. Adding spice to the mix, the Arabian sign consisted of an outstretched hand, palm down, with all fingers splayed except the middle, which sticks downwards. And the Russian version bends the middle finger of one hand back with the forefinger of the other in a gesture they call “looking under the cat’s tail.”
Read the full article at Mental Floss.