Dagger in hand

A man of prodigious fortune, coming to add his opinion to some light discussion that was going on casually at his table, began precisely thus: "It can only be a liar or an ignoramus who will say otherwise than," and so on. Pursue that philosophical point, dagger in hand.

--Michel de Montaigne, Of the art of discussion.

Stab back: cmnewman99-at-yahoo.com


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Friday, July 25, 2003
I just don't give a pluck.

I have no idea whether this is true or not. It came to me in one of those circulating emails. But if it's not true, it's still to be admired as a fine specimen of the art of balderdash.
Giving the Finger

Before the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the French, anticipating victory over the English, proposed to cut off the middle finger of all captured English soldiers. Without the middle finger it would be impossible to draw the renowned English longbow and therefore be incapable of fighting in the future. This famous weapon was made of the native English Yew tree, and the act of drawing the longbow was known as "plucking the yew" (or "pluck yew"). Much to the bewilderment of the French, the English won a major upset and began mocking the French by waving their middle fingers at the defeated French, 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 to a labiodental fricative 'F', and thus the words often used in conjunction with the one-finger-salute are mistakenly thought to have something to do with an intimate encounter. It is also because of the pheasant feathers on the arrows used w/ the longbow that the symbolic gesture is known as "giving the bird." And yew thought yew knew everything.

Update: My good friend the Argentine wrote in with an opinion on this:
Read your post with amusement. I think it's balderdash, at least in part.
First, the English flip the bird somewhat differently than do we. The
English version is to show the back of one's pointer and middle finger, both
slightly curled (a sort of limp-dicked, backwards version of Churchill's
victory sign) to the offender, whilst waving the hand away from oneself.

The custom did, though, have its origin in the Battle of Agincourt, and the
unsuccessful French attempt to disable England's bowmen (if my English
friends are to be believed, that is).

The linguistics lesson is pleasingly playful, but given the plethora of
English words -- not even counting their plurals -- employing the "difficult
consonant cluster," I wouldn't plan on plying the story further. Indeed,
were I you, I'd pledge not to.
I think he's right. Plainly not plausible.

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