The Fascinating History Of Obscene Gestures

Published October 18, 2013
Updated February 27, 2024
Johnny Cash Giving The Finger

Source: Blogspot

The (Middle) finger

Synonymous with various phrases revolving around a verb that begins with the letter F, the middle finger is one of the most universally recognized and reviled gestures in history. Made particularly popular by late 20th century rock and punk personalities as a sign of rebellion and anti-establishmentarianism, the finger today is used liberally by people of all ages.

Obscene Gestures Little Kid Finger

Source: Acid Cow

The finger dates all the way back to ancient Greece when it was meant as an insult, suggesting that the recipient of the gesture would easily submit to anal intercourse. By the Roman era, the middle finger had garnered the superstitious trait of being indecent, and is seen in Roman literature as an act of ill-intention and tool of black magic.


Mooning Gnome

Source: Stupid

Mooning is the only gesture on this list that can get you arrested in most countries. Sort of like the function one’s backside is known for, the act of mooning seems to come naturally to humans, having been observed to occur independently in several geographically unique cultures.

Obscene Gestures Mooning Scarecrow

Source: Slow Talk

The first known occurrence was in 66 CE, when a Roman soldier mooned passing Jewish pilgrims during Passover, causing a riot and subsequently a military response that killed thousands. Bearing one’s buttocks in provocation has been a favorite particularly in English-speaking countries since the colonial era, although it did not earn its lunar moniker until the 1960’s when American college students popularized it through protests. Today, it is a leading cause of fines against footballers and a ritual of irreverent weirdness for several thousand thrill-seekers during the annual Mooning of Amtrak.

Mooning Amtrak

Source: Moon Amtrak

Bras d’honneur

BDH Lady

Source: Tout Le Cine

It has many names across the world, the banana, the umbrella, the sleeve-cut, but its meaning is graphically clear: “Shove it as far as your arm can reach.” Chances are you’ve known this gesture for years and have even thrown it a few times without being aware of it. French for “arm of honor” (they give The Finger the same distinction), its origin also dates back to the 100 Years War, used by the French to intimidate their hated English rivals.

All That's Interesting
Established in 2010, All That's Interesting brings together a dedicated staff of digital publishing veterans and subject-level experts in history, true crime, and science. From the lesser-known byways of human history to the uncharted corners of the world, we seek out stories that bring our past, present, and future to life. Privately-owned since its founding, All That's Interesting maintains a commitment to unbiased reporting while taking great care in fact-checking and research to ensure that we meet the highest standards of accuracy.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.