Coming across “The World’s Rudest Hand Gestures” in The Atlantic made me wonder if people really gave the finger anymore. Surely the decline in my own personal usage of the finger is not a result of my waning adolescent scorn but rather an example of how the finger, as a viable means of communication, has gone out of style. Can you imagine giving the finger with sincerity? Can you imagine receiving it?
Hand gestures, in order to be effective, are based on the premise that the receiver understands the gesture and at least most of what the gesture implies. They reveal, as a culture, what we agree on, what we construe as meaningful. Giving the finger is now something adorable, punk rock children of celebrities do. It’s no longer a viable threat.
One advantage of giving the finger was that it implied the person for which the gesture was intended was not worth the effort of language. Giving the finger was an insult but it was also dismissive, not intended to engage but to end interaction. Now, I think any sincere use of the finger would communicate an incompetence on the part of the person gesturing. Rather than having the final say, the person with their finger in the air is merely at a loss to say anything effective.
“I rub shit on your face,” however, I could definitely stand behind.
Also, this is an old paragon of rudeness.