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Origin of ‘le doigt d’honneur’, France’s middle finger gesture

It may be rude, but the worldwide renowned middle finger gesture has a long history 

In France, such a gesture is known as le doigt d’honneur Pic: BAZA Production / Shutterstock

During a campaign day in Marseille at the end of November 2021, French Presidential hopeful and pot-stirring polemicist Eric Zemmour responded, through his car window and in a tit-for-tat manner, to a ‘middle finger’ gesture directed at him by a local woman.

Unfortunately for Zemmour, a photographer was on hand to capture the gesture, and the image went viral on social media and became quite the news story. 

In France, such a gesture is known as le doigt d’honneur.  

While the origin of the indecent gesture itself can be traced back to ancient Rome – and not, as widely recounted at dinner parties, to the Battle of Agincourt and the mutilation of English archers’ middle fingers – the French use of the word honneur to describe the middle finger being raised in such an insulting and crude manner is what concerns us here. To this day it is still unclear though why French people call it le doigt d’honneur when in fact it has an opposite meaning. 

The middle finger in French is called le majeur (the thumb is le pouce; index finger is l’index; ring finger is l’annulaire and ‘pinkie’ is l’auriculaire) but the use of honneur is a hark back to the phrase in Latin: digitus impudicusle doigt indécent (unchaste finger). 

Looking to go that extra mile in your insult? Go for le bras d’honneur, which sees your other hand placed in the inner fold of the elbow of the raised arm doing the doight d’honneur

This is deemed an even stronger, deeply offensive gesture and sure to insult anyone, whatever their political persuasion.

Zemmour later addressed the issue on his Twitter page, telling the woman concerned that “vous imiter était fort inélégant” (imitating you was very inelegant).

Related stories:

Bouillon, soupçon: Two French culinary terms with other meanings

Discover not so appetising origins of the French saying ‘bon appétit’

Quand même: The French phrase for almost every occasion

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