Don’t start at A. Lexicographers agree. When commencing work on or with a dictionary…
- the letter V
- a V-sign
The gesturer’s palm faces inward, the index and middle fingers are raised, spread and, often, jerked upwards. Up yours. Get stuffed. Piss off. Fuck you. This is the signature gesture of confrontational British slang: the two-fingered salute, the fingers, the two up, cunt hooks, the Harvey Smith.
The V-sign enjoys a multiplicity of folk-etymologies and etymythologies. The most popular derives it from an alleged historical insult by Welsh archers to their de-fingered and thus disarmed French counterparts. Nonsense, of course. … probable histories lead us to darker places: the V-sign has its likely origins, as do so many things, in the spread legs of a woman, or the female pubic triangle, or the open female genitals.
The most likely of these is the anatomical representation of spread legs. But it’s complicated. Whilst generally defined as, or used in place of fuck you, we can clearly guess the true generation of the V-sign in an offensive and equivalent use of cunt. Which, It follows that the V-sign is comparable to the middle finger gesture that, in similar context, stands proud for the erect phallus.
As V for Victory or Victory-V, also familiarly known as the vick or the Vicky, the same basic sign, given palm in or out – usually palm out – served as British prime minister Winston Churchill’s Second World War visual catchphrase,
Both ways about, the V-sign was a smugly triumphal gesture in prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s hands too.
The V for Victory actually started in 1941 as anti-German graffiti in Nazi-occupied Belgium; it spread to France and the Netherlands. Churchill adopted it as a symbol that spoke of “the unconquerable will of the occupied territories”.
The V was broadcast by the BBC to occupied Europe, in musical morse code, in the form of the first four notes of Beethoven’s ‘Fifth Symphony’ – duh duh duh duuuuh.
Dot dot dot dash.
Palm out, with a different intention, sincere, ironic or merely following fashion, the same digital arrangement becomes a peace sign.
With mischievous intent it can turn into one variation of the rabbit ears that adorn unsuspecting photographic subjects.
Laterally, it animates as scissors and, in hip-hop and urban culture, it becomes the deuce (and deuces), a multi-purpose physical embellishment and gesture of farewell. as seen in countless selfies).
As seen in countless selfies.
In January 2017 scopes.com reported a little online angst: a story from Japan that hackers can extract fingerprints from peace sign selfies and thus steal people’s identities. Peace out.
As an initialism the V is also an informal indicator of vodka, Viagra and, echoing V for Victory, may represent the cultural and political symbolism wrapped up in V for Vendetta, the influential comic book series and movie. The last of those V’s is shown scrawled across a circle, similar in form to the preferred symbol of anarchists. This V is an anti-nazi, anti-authority, anti-totalitarian state graffito for our time: a symbol that speaks of the unconquerable will of occupied territories.
Meanwhile, back in the shallows, BBC TV co-opted the V as a logo-style for The Voice UK talent show.
In informal American Sign Language [ASL] it may indicate a vibrator. Which, in a funny kind of a way, brings us full circle back to those spread legs…
Conventionally, of course, it signals the numeral two (unless you are speaking Latin).