Friday, January 20, 2006

Pluck Yew

Another important piece of information... (Sent to me from the Peter's Jokes Group).

Isn't history more fun when you know something about it?

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 with the longbow that the symbolic gesture is known as "giving the bird".

And yew thought yew knew everything...


Anonymous said...

That story is a joke. It's not the slightest bit true.

AstroGirl said...

Hi Anonymous... since it was sent to me from Peter's Jokes Group.. I doubt it is.. but its still fun to read.. :)

AstroGirl said...

Ok guys.. here are the facts:

This story has been circulating on the internet for a few years now but, despite its elaborate detail and use of impressive phrases like "labiodental fricative", it is absolutely false. There are several reasons why this "etymology" is spurious but the most glaring error is that the raised-middle-finger gesture is essentially American. This gesture was largely unknown in Britain until it began appearing in Hollywood movies in the 1960s and 1970s. (I believe its first screen appearance was in "Easy Rider".) The British equivalent of this gesture uses the middle and index fingers held in a V - similar to the "Victory V" sign of World War II (later revived as the "peace sign" of the Vietnam era) but with the palm toward the gesturer. This "etymology" actually works much better for the British gesture than the American one as you need two fingers to draw a bow. It is still wrong, though.

While it is true that English longbows were invariably made of yew, there is no evidence to suggest that drawing a longbow has ever been known as plucking the yew. Also, the only "prisoners" held by the French were those who could be exchanged for large amounts of gold, that is, royalty and the aristocracy. There was no reason to hold the lower orders, such as bowmen, prisoner. Peasants could not be exchanged for gold, they ate food and used up resources. Captured bowmen were simply killed.

Despite the writer's assertions, the pl consonant cluster in the phrase pluck yew is not "difficult to say". English speakers have no trouble saying such words as please, plenty, plank, or even people. If the pl consonant cluster in the phrase pluck yew were truly "difficult to say", we should expect to find other English words which have undergone the same shift from pl to f. No such words exist, however. (We don't say fease, fenty, fank, or peofe.) For that matter, English still has the word pluck. So, if we have no difficulty saying the word pluck on its own, how does appending the word yew make the pl harder to pronounce? It just doesn't make sense.

(Courtesy of

Enjoy ! :)