There was an interesting story about swear words in the Atlantic Monthly. I happened to read it today on a plane to Switzerland. And the on the train, a few hours later, I saw something that looked like a huge cross up on a hillside, and I started to think about symbols.
I remember when I first saw somebody flipping the bird, or extending their middle finger at somebody else. I was in the seventh grade, and back then, my classmates told me that the proper way to reply to that one was to show the “extended index finger and pinky” combination towards the bird man.
To me, these gestures seemed weird. I remember not understanding the power of an extended middle finger, or how two other fingers would be the appropriate reply. I have a faint memory of starting a campaign of my own, by replying with just my pinky. Why would that finger be any less powerful?
As you’ve probably noticed by now, after all, it’s been a good 25 years, that one didn’t catch on. But I haven’t seen the two-finger reply salute in a long time, either. Why wasn’t that sticky? Too difficult maybe?