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A History Lesson

Image used under a Collective Commons License from:,_St._Alban%27s_Chronicle_by_Thomas_Walsingham.jpg

How do you fancy having a history lesson and a good laugh at the same time?

This is something I never knew before and now that I know it, I feel compelled to send it on to my more intelligent friends (like you) in the hope that they, too, will feel edified. Isn’t history a lot more fun when you know something about it?

This is a story about England’s heroes of medieval times, the archers. For hundreds of years, until the advent of gunpowder, English archers and their longbows were feared on the battlefield, and nobody feared them quite as much as the French, who were often the victims of this amazing weapon which the English used to great advantage.

Right before the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the French, who were anticipating victory over the English, proposed to cut off the middle finger of all captured English soldiers.

Without their middle finger it would be impossible to draw the renowned English longbow and therefore they would be incapable of fighting in the future.

The famous English longbows were made of the native English Yew tree and the act of drawing the longbow back was known as “plucking the yew” (or “pluck yew”).

Much to the bewilderment of the French, the English won this major battle, despite being heavily outnumbered. Having heard of the French plans to cut off their middle fingers, began mocking them by waving their middle fingers at the defeated French soldiers, saying, “See, we can still pluck yew!”

Since “pluck yew” is rather difficult to say, the difficult consonant cluster at the beginning has gradually changed over the years to a labiodentals fricative “F”, and thus the words often used in conjunction with the one-finger-salute!

It is also because of the pheasant feathers that were used on the arrows employed with the longbow, that the symbolic gesture became known as “giving the bird”.


And you thought you knew every plucking thing! Ha ha!

Image used under a Collective Commons License from:,_St._Alban%27s_Chronicle_by_Thomas_Walsingham.jpg

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