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French Word of the Day: Doigt d’honneur

The Local France
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French Word of the Day: Doigt d’honneur
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Contrary to its name, this is not particularly honourable (but it can be pretty useful).

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Why do I need to know le doigt d’honneur?

Because if you cycle or drive in France, you probably see (and think about) this pretty frequently. 

What does it mean?

Le doigt d’honneur – usually pronounced dwaht don-urr - is French for ‘the finger of honour,’ however the real meaning of this phrase is not very honourable at all.

In English, we call this ‘the finger’ or ‘the bird,’ but the term for making an offensive gesture by sticking up your middle finger somehow sounds more elegant in French.

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It is unclear why this finger gets the title of ‘honour’ in French, but it could be due to the famous myth that during the Hundred Years War, the French would cut off the first two fingers of captured English archers, making it impossible for them to use their long bows. 

However, this has been proven historically false and the true origins of the doigt d’honneur can be found in Ancient Greece, where the gesture was an insult - used to reference the phallus and sexually explicit acts. 

In French, there is also the bras d’honneur (arm of honour) which refers to the bent elbow gesture, which carries the same insulting ‘f you’ meaning.

The less offensive way to refer to the middle finger in French is as the ‘majeur.’ You can also shorten the phrase and just say faire le doigt (“do the finger”) to reference the same action. 

Use it like this

La voiture allait trop vite et m'a coupé la route alors que je faisais du vélo, alors je lui ai fait un doigt d'honneur. – The car was going too fast and cut me off while I was biking, so I flipped him off.

J'ai fait un doigt d’honneur sur la photo pour rigoler, mais ma femme n'a pas trouvé ça très drôle. – I did the middle finger in the picture as a joke, but my wife did not find it very funny.

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