Pluck Yew!

dennis grace amazing at
Sun Jan 12 16:45:04 PST 1997

Greetings Cosyns,

Lyonel ici.

<snip--the entertaining yew explication>

Kateryn asked:

>Is this true?

Well, since you asked.

*sigh* Alas, this is all but a brilliantly realized aetiological fiction.
Unfortunately, it has quite a few flaws.

First, the French threatened to cut off BOTH of the first two fingers of
right hand of captured English archers--a threat they carried out
frequently.  The archers afield would--after a volley of arrows--taunt
French knights by holding up the two fingers as if to say, "Too bad for you,
buddy; I've still got mine." This, some anthropologists believe, is the
source of the English (and later American) V for Victory of WWII, (later,
ironically, the co-opted as a peace sign).  Of course, no one has provided
any proof for this charming theory either, and since the first two fingers
do conveniently form a V, the source may simply be "V for victory."

Second, though lexicographers seem uncertain, the word purportedly being
derived from "pluck" probably has Danish roots, from "fokken" meaning "to
breed" (usually applied to cattle). 

Third, I'm not aware of any transition from "pl-" to "f-" occuring during
the Great Vowel Shift, nor does it seem likely.  I've been all through my
Middle English texts, and I can find no similar shifts.

Fourth, longbowmen don't pluck *yew*, they grip yew and pluck *rawhide*.

Fifth, the middle-finger gesture, usually referred to as "the bird," is
derivative of a fine Medieval English gesture called "the fig" (pinch all
five fingers together at a point, collapse the knuckles inward, and point
upwards suggestively) which had a meaning similar to that of "the bird."

As I said, a brilliantly realized fiction, but a fiction nonetheless.  I tip
my hat to the author.  Hoping I haven't spoiled the joke, I remain

Yours in e-Service

Sir Lyonel Oliver Grace
Dennis G. Grace
Postmodern Medievalist
Division of Rhetoric and Composition
Department of English
University of Texas at Austin
amazing at

Si hoc legere scis, nimium eruditionis habes.

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