Monday, May 23, 2011

Middle Finger

"Dad, can I ask you a question?" my seven-year-old son asked. He and his little brothers were helping me put away laundry.

"Sure Maxfield. What is it?" I responded not looking at him. I was mindlessly sorting pants by size using the air hockey table as a folding table, I had a system going and I was in a groove.

"Kevin, at school, not my cousin Kevin, showed me his middle finger and told me that it was a very bad thing to show just your middle finger to some one. He said you should never do this." Max held up his middle finger, his thumb crossed his other three fingers to hold them down*.

I don't know if my kids noticed that I stopped folding the laundry, my mindless system disrupted, or if they saw me look at the clock wondering if their mom would be home soon to field this question, but they sensed that they were on to something important.

"Like this, dad, like this." Max said trying to show me his middle finger.

"You shouldn't do that pal." I said.

"Why? Why is it bad? What does it mean? Kevin just told me it was really bad?"

"It is like saying something bad in sign language." I told him. I noticed Wyatt was struggling to point his middle finger. I sighed.

"But what does it mean?" Max asked. He was very curious and had a concerned look on his face.

"Just don't ever do it to someone. Okay?"


"Just don't."

"Can you tell me what it means?" Max asked.

Every day, as a parent, I go through some type of debate in my head between telling the truth, protecting the innocence, keeping it real, keeping their youth, knowing is half the battle (GI JOE),  ignorance is bliss etc. etc. I do believe that sometimes the best answers are "Because I said so." But at this time I felt some type of explanation would take some mystery out of the equation and maybe give Max some understanding as to why he should not give the finger. I did not want to talk about the sexual nature of flipping the bird, that would be whole other conversation, but I didn't want him to think it was okay to do. He is too young to be labeled a bad kid for something innocent. I searched my brain for something that I could use to explain the nature of the gesture but also impress upon them why it was bad. A long time ago I read an article about giving someone the finger and it's history. The only part I could recall was the story (which is a false story) about some king cutting the fingers off of his enemy's archers.

I took a deep breath and told them a story.

"A long time ago there was a very evil king. This king was the most evil person alive at that time.  He sent his army from village to village taking property and stealing to expand his kingdom. He would make the villagers work for him in the farms and not pay them. Some of the villagers tried to fight back. The villagers used bow and arrows and swords. The kings army was too strong. When they won the battle the king's army cut off the middle fingers of all the men so they could not fight any more. They cut off the middle finger so the villagers could not pull back a bow or hold their swords. After a while none of villagers in all of the land had middle fingers. The kings army would ride into town and the king's soldiers would hold up their middle fingers to show they were loyal to king and also to make fun of the people without fingers. Over the years, showing someone your middle finger has now become a meaning that you wish that person to be hurt. You wish them harm. It is not nice to wish other people harm. It means you support the evil king."

The room was quiet. Max looked at his middle fingers. Wyatt was still playing the story in his mind.

"So that is why I never want you to show your middle finger to someone." I said.

"What if it is an accident?" Max asked. "What if I use it to point at something. I am not trying to be mean."

"I use my middle finger all of the time to point. Just never point it at someone in the way which you think is bad. Okay?" I said. "Don't do it as a mean gesture."

"Okay." Max said.

I looked at Wyatt.

"Okay." Wyatt said.

We went back to folding laundry.

"Dad, why didn't they just cut off the whole hand?" Max asked.

" they could still work the fields and do their jobs for the king?"

"Dad, why couldn't they shoot arrows using their other fingers?"

"It's tricky." I said. I grabbed a clothes hanger pretending it was a bow and tried to demonstrate. "Without their middle fingers their aim was off and the strength was off."

"Dad, did they cut off the middle finger on just one hand or both?"


"Dad, does a finger grow back if it gets cut off?"

"No. Once it is gone it is gone."

"If a person has their finger cut off and has a baby, will the baby be missing their fingers?"


"What if both the mom and the dad had their fingers cut off, would the baby still have fingers?"


There was another 30 or so questions that followed (I can't remember them all) as well as a quick discussion about Luke Skywalker's hand being cut off and how it was replaced. Max and Wyatt discussed why pirates could fight with hooks instead of hands and how they would make a hook to replace their middle finger. I listened to them talk and went about putting clothes away. I walked into Jackson's room.

"I would hook you." Wyatt said to Max.

"I would hook you." Max returned.

"No. Hook you." Wyatt said.

"Hook. You." Max said.

And so that is what the middle finger now means. Hook You.


* For scientific purposes I am conducting a survey. There are two ways to give someone the finger.
1- Middle finger up- thumb holding the other fingers down.
2-Middle finger up- Thumb out to the side.

Say someone cuts you off in traffic and you have to flip them off, do you use #1 or # 2?


Kami said...


I love this. This is totally a convo I could have with my inquisitive kiddo.

mrtl said...

3 I crook my thumb like its arthritic and shake my fist like the curmudgeon wannabe that I am why yelling, "Why you, YOU whippersnapper!"

Why isn't this an option? It's totally normal!

ps - Love the story. Stop by and make me feel better kthxbai

Unknown said...

Awesome story! I'm gonna use that.

#1...except I can't remember the last time I did that

Mama said...

#1 when you're pissed at someone but #2 when you're tossing one to your friend in a partial joking manner.

Melissa said...

LOL...i'm going to start flipping people off and saying "hook you"!

i hope i am around to read your kids' blogs about the influence their dad had on them...LOL

#1 if i were going to do it!

SciFi Dad said...

Always #1... but more importantly, are the other fingers completely down, or halfway down?

M@ said...

#1 is a committment, #2 means you really don't mean it much. I'll do you one Virginia when I went to college there were a bunch of rednecks that would stick the pinky and thumb out to the side and the middle one up. That's HARD, but looks ridiculous.

Smug said...

Both have a time and place in my life I think!

Meegs said...

Ditto Mama:
#1 when you're pissed at someone but #2 when you're tossing one to your friend in a partial joking manner.

Anonymous said...

It was long bows. The one hundred years war Franch and English.. You would pluck the bow. When captured they would cut off their plucking finger. I can still pluck you.

Robert Wuhl explained it this way.

Karen said...

I have to do #1. My thumb won't stay "out" on it's own.

starlightsound said...

#1 Thumb extended could look like an L. Need full brute force of middle finger alone.

Anonymous said...

If someone cuts me off in traffic, I just say "A__hole". Don't need my hands for that.

Mama D said...

Laughed so hard I cried...

#1, but all of the Italian side of the family uses #2. I somehow lack the gene that allows me to raise my middle finger without holding down the rest.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

My kids must not be very inquisitive -- they stopped asking when I told them it meant bad things in sign language. But then, they also never asked where babies come from...

I refrain from it in traffic, but in friendly arguments with my husband, I am known to put my entire hand across the inner elbow and bend the arm up with a fist. Also rubbing the side of my nose with middle finger extended further than the rest of the fingers on same hand, while giving the evil eye. It's great at the supper table.

Keia said...

Wow. That was too funny. What a conversation.

p.s #1

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