Gut Rumbles

August 20, 2005

sign language

I read long ago that the gesture of a handshake was started to mean that you meant peace and you had no quarrel with the other person. You offered him your empty right hand to show that you didn't intend to pull a sword or a knife to try to kill him. That sign language goes back a long time in history.

The American Indians did something akin to that gesture. They raised an open right palm to show that they didn't have a weapon. That meant that they wanted to talk rather than fight.

The "flipping finger" (meaning FUCK YOU!!!) was invented by the British after their masters of the longbow became feared by their opponents. If longbow archers were captured by their enemies, the captors frequently cut off the middle finger of the bowman's right hand, so that he could not shoot a bow anymore.

Shooting "the bird" was a sign that you could still fight with the best of them. You still had your middle finger, so you were good to go.

Look at pictures of Winston Churchill during World War II. He was always showing that "V" for victory sign. I learned later that if he did it with the palm of his hand pointed AT the camera, that meant nothing but a "V" for victory.

But if he showed you the BACK of his hand with two fingers raised, it was just like shooting the bird. It meant, still have my fingers and I'll shoot you if I get the chance. That gesture came from people who fired longbows.

I tried shooting a longbow once. Just STRINGING the damn thing is one hell of an effort and I was in good shape back at that time. It was damn nearly as long as I was tall, and I had to wrestle with that bastard for a while before I got the bowstring on it.

It had a 170-pound draw and it would fire an arrow an incredible distance, IF you could draw the device all the way back and hold it for more than ... oh, about two seconds.

You have to be a bad-ass to handle one of those. It's like doing a 170-pound sideways bench press.

I like reading about such things. I've attended several supervisory training seminars that were designed to teach me how to read "body language." I paid attention and discovered, with experience, that most what they taught is true.

I've just been piss-poor at reading wimmen in my life.


I think I'd have to shoot a longbow by holding it with my feet and pulling back with both hands. damn, just think about doing that 170 pound sideways benchpress during a battle a few dozen times, with the other guys shooting back.

Posted by: joe on August 20, 2005 03:28 PM

I read once of an armored knight having both of his legs pinned to his armored war horse by one barbed arrow from a couple hundred yards away. That's gotta be a big-ass arrow, and heavy, to boot.

Posted by: Bane on August 20, 2005 04:47 PM

You can and did find good women, you just did not understand what there good traits were at the time of your envolvement.

Posted by: ken on August 20, 2005 05:09 PM

Longbows were without a doubt, the baddest one-man long-range weapons ever invented for centuries. Until the advent of the rifled musket, nothing compared in terms of combining both accuracy and stopping power-- they simply fell out of favor because Louis XIV-era kings were far more enamored with the sexy explosions of blunderbusses and mass pike charges, and a good cannon shot tended to lay waste to whole platoons.
Best of all, it was a true poor man's weapon--it's appeal with the English lay in the fact that large numbers of men could be mustered and equipped for very little cost, and as long as you kept the cavalry off them, they would tear opponents to pieces, as the French found out during the Hundred Years War.
It was hell on bodies, though--old skeletons from the era show bowed spines from constantly pulling such a huge amount of weight.
A man's weapon, no doubt....

Posted by: Chris on August 20, 2005 06:04 PM

Blow me, Ken.

Posted by: Acidman on August 20, 2005 06:05 PM

Oooh... I've met men who can use a longbow...


I can only load one using my legs...

Posted by: Misty on August 20, 2005 06:40 PM

Erm, before anybody says anything, I meant I can only load a longbow using all my body, not loading the men who use them"

Posted by: Misty on August 20, 2005 06:41 PM

Damn, and here I was all ready to head down to the local archery shop ;)

Posted by: Graumagus on August 20, 2005 07:13 PM

Long bows rock. Once you get them strung any decent archer can knock someone off their horse from a football field away, or off the bleachers from across the gym.... not that I did that or anything. *wink*

Posted by: Alli on August 20, 2005 07:40 PM

The story about the middle finger salue deriving from longbowmen is yet another urban legend. A good summary of the origin of this particular story, and why it's silly, is here:

I will add, from my own experience using bows, that the middle finger is not essential to drawing the string. You get better results that way, but index-and-thumb was used for a long time with decent results, and index-and-ring-finger would also work if there was a problem with the middle finger.

Posted by: Rollory on August 21, 2005 01:20 AM

Rollory, have you ever tried to shoot a genuine, hand-made longbow with a 170-pound draw? That's a got-dam man's job there, because there ain't no pulleys or mechanical contraptions to help you draw the arrow. It's pure muscle.

And if YOU can do that using nothing but your index and ring finger, I wanna watch.

I'll be highly impressed.

Posted by: Acidman on August 21, 2005 11:35 AM

Heaviest bow I ever saw was a 140#'r..
Took the bowyers at Easton 6 tries to get one that
would stay together.
About a week after I got my first longbow an acquaintance invited me to shoot his bow. 90# draw. I shot a dozen arrows before I couldn't get to full draw anymore. I was proud of myself until the next day when evey muscle in my chest was screaming in agony. Guy that owned the bow was in his mid-60's and allowed as how he'd had to have it reworked since he had trouble handling 120# anymore.

Posted by: ibm on August 21, 2005 12:34 PM

I remember a talk someone gave at a conference I attended about 25 years ago. He was talking about people and the space they want around themselves to be comfortable. He was talking about getting into an elevator. Most people who get into an elevator go for the corners. He said next time get into an elevator with someone and stand in the middle of the side where they are in the corner. The other person will fidget and try to get as far away as possible. Don't even have to look at them or even move at all. They become very uncomfortable and sometimes even get off on the wrong floor just to get away.

I remember getting on a subway here in NYC that was rather crowded. One guy was standing by the door and another was in the middle of the aisle. The guy in the middle glanced at the guy at the door several times. When they got off the car, the guy at the door and the guy in the middle had a knife fight because the one was "looking" at the other. He was not even staring at him, just glancing occasionally.

This whole body language thing is fascinating in that there is so much you can say or not say just by the way you stand or sit or look around.

Posted by: dick on August 21, 2005 01:58 PM

170 pounds? No, and I know better than to try. But I don't see why the ring finger would be inherently that much weaker than the middle finger - particularly if you train it up. Most of the work is being done by the arm; the fingers just have to hold on.

Posted by: Rollory on August 21, 2005 02:19 PM
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