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The Mini-Adventures Of Wright-Phillips And The V Sign Hand Gesture


On Wednesday night, Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate became incensed when Man City’s Shaun Wright-Phillips dived to win a foul. After the dimunitive star was substituted, Southgate and Wright-Phillips got into a verbal spat that resulted in SWP giving the two-fingered salute to Southgate.

Now, SWP may face a FA charge of bringing the game into disrepute.

Some of you may be wondering, what’s the big deal about what Subbuteo’s Shaun Wright-Phillips did, right? Let me tell you.

Giving someone the two fingers is definitely a huge cultural difference between the United States and United Kingdom. In the United States, it’s used quite often when someone wants to non-verbally communicate the number two. “Dude, how many times have the Phillies won the World Series?” And the two fingers would go up, especially if the dude had his mouth full and was eating a philly cheesesteak.

In the United Kingdom, it means f**k you and has the same meaning as the preferred American one-finger salute.

Being British and living in the United States, I can’t tell how you how many times Americans have unknowingly raised two fingers in my face, with palm pointed inward, and I’ve had to try to keep my composure. I’ve had professors do it to my face. I’ve had bosses do it, without knowing what they were non-verbally saying to me. Oftentimes, I’ve felt like jumping out and telling them to stop as what they’re doing is offensive. But because they don’t realize what they’re doing, I internalize those feelings and shrug them off.

Until now.

While SWP’s gesture to Southgate was in poor form, it did allow me to teach some Americans a lesson about when not to use the two fingered salute. Interestingly, Winston Churchill used in during early periods of World War II to convey victory, but soon changed it to have the palm pointed outward instead of inward. Nowadays, the V sign with palm pointed outward communicates peace.

ashley_cole-v-sign2.jpgThe story of how the V sign originated is fascinating. Check out the passage about bowfinger on Wikipedia.

One more story about the V sign. I admit, I’ve used it myself to show my anger at Americans before. Sometimes I’ve done it without thinking. Only afterwards do I suddenly realize that they must have been wondering what an idiot I was, non-verbally communicating the number two again and again. “Two, what?” they must have been wondering. But I’ve also done the two finger salutes to Americans when I want to vent but I knowingly don’t want them to know exactly what I’m communicating. It happens quite often for me during road rage incidents. The last thing I want to do is cause the driver to ram me off the road or pull out a gun, so a lovely two-fingered salute diffuses the situation, makes me feel good and gives me a wry smile.

In the case of Shaun Wright-Phillips giving the V sign gesture to Gareth Southgate, both gentlemen knew what the salute meant, so it’s only right that the FA look into the situation. If the referee reported it as an incident, then SWP may find himself being fined or, worse, banned. It all seems a bit harmless to me, but in some ways the FA needs to step in to send a message that this type of behavior shouldn’t be allowed week-in week-out in the league.

For the rest of us, though, we can spend our weekend giving the V sign to friends or strangers. If you’re American, you just have to hope that the other bloke isn’t reading this blog or isn’t a connoisseur of British hand gestures. You have been warned.

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  1. Andre

    September 19, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    You are in America…you adapt to the way of life there. I did the same when I was in England. I learned not to throw up the two fingers while ordering beer. The fact that you get mad when people do it to you in AMERICA tells me you have issues.

  2. kyle

    July 13, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    Wow – all I can saw is this is a gay article. The U.S. is such a more dominant country. Oh wait someone just made me mad, I better give the “V” sign. hahahahaha. so very clever – hope you feel better next time you give an american the V sign and stick those fingers up your you know what.

  3. Claudio

    November 6, 2008 at 8:31 am

    V–sign. Offensive in one country and in (some of) its former colonies. The rest of the world does not really care about Agincourt and “we still have our bowfingers!”. Wake up and smell the coffee – this is currently a US-ran planet. It was our turn running the Western world twenty centuries ago, you had your turn two hundred years ago, now it's the United States' turn. So get used to more NBA, more NFL, more MLB (yawn), more 'zedification' or English words. And forget those useless insular peculiarities like V-sign, Guy Fawkes, chavs (Burberry is still all the rage in the US and in the Far East), separate water taps, lateral thinking and, please, cricket. (yawn times two).

  4. Lucas

    October 31, 2008 at 10:41 am

    In some cultures giving the “OK”sign (thumb and index finger touch tips, other three fingers fanned out) means you're calling the person an Asshole. Different strokes.

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