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Flipping TWO Birds? Conservatives Put the “Dis” in Dissent

October 6, 2009
             (photo by cupcakes2 on Flickr)

(photo by cupcakes2 on Flickr)

Maybe they inhaled too deep in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cigar tent: The “Freedom Association” expressed its disdain for Chardonnay Conservatives at the party’s Manchester conference this week by setting up an extraterritorial red-meat zone, “where fatty foods and fast cars are de rigeur, Eurocrats are not to be trusted and political correctness has not yet gone mad,” reports Brian Wheeler of the BBC.

Wheeler wasn’t joking when he described the fare inside party cordons as “fruit smoothies and wholemeal sandwiches from the General Well Being cafe.” Outside, meanwhile, the alternative program of “the self-styled ‘conservative wing of the Conservative Party'” attacked intrusive government policies ranging from taxes to the European Union (they’re agin’ it) to pub-smoking bans. Booze and burgers will be next, the rightists warn.

The Beeb’s Wheeler describes Freedom Association precincts as a haven, “if your idea of freedom is pouring yourself a large gin and tonic, sparking up a cigarette and sticking two fingers up at petty officialdom.”

Wait a minute — two fingers?

Here’s a way to blunder into trouble in England. Italians chuck their chins to be rude, and Americans flash the middle finger. But, in England, a back-handed “vee” made with the index and middle fingers (as distinct from the palm-out Victory sign), is the ultimate sign of disrespect.

The story behind the gesture dates it to 1415,when a battle-weary army led by Henry V defied mud, diarrhea and alien turf to rout the French at Agincourt. Because English soldiers used the longbow, the French were said to lop off the first two fingers of captives to ruin them for future fighting.

Massed and primed for battle at Agincourt, therefore (stirred, as Shakespeare had it, by the testosterone-laced oratory, “we happy few, we band of brothers”), the English supposedly taunted their rivals by waving their intact digits.

So watch your sign language the next time you order pints for yourself and a friend over a crowd in a pub. The longbow is gone, and historians have cast doubt on the legend behind the gesture, but the insult itself survives.

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