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The V-sign

Biography

What do you think of when someone mentions the V-sign – a rude gesture of anger or something altogether more benign? Here we look at the origin of both versions, and dispel the myth that the signal's roots lie with archers in the Battle of Agincourt.

The Basics

The nation’s favourite way of signalling to others that they could possibly find more constructive things to do than annoying us is a gesture dignified by history, if nothing else. An entertaining myth that it derived from longbowmen showing the marauding French that they still had the use of their lethal drawing fingers has endured, but it is doubtless time to give it the two-fingered salute.

The Basics
The Rude Version

The Rude Version

In Britain, the V-sign - when done with the palm backwards - is a rude insult, meaning "Get Stuffed!". Although it is now losing ground to the American single finger, it is still seen from time to time. Recent two-finger saluters include deputy PM John Prescott, Liam Gallagher of Oasis and England striker, Wayne Rooney.

V for Victory

The V-sign also stands for "Victory", and unlike the British "Get Stuffed!" sign, this meaning is understood and used around the world. Popularised by Winston Churchill during world war two, the idea came from a Belgian lawyer called Victor De Lavelaye.

V for Victory
The Archers' V-sign: an urban legend

The Archers' V-sign: an urban legend

The rude V-sign is widely seen as a gesture of English defiance, supposedly originating in the archers who fought in the 100 Years War against France. Our nominator, Catherine Cooper, wrote, "It was a means of telling your opponent that you were still capable of drawing a bow string back, as you still had two fingers!"