An investigator flashes victory signs upon the 2006 arrival of material gathered by the Stardust spacecraft at the Johnson Space Center in Texas.

The V sign is a hand gesture in which the first and second fingers are raised and parted, whilst the remaining fingers are clenched. With palm inwards, in the United Kingdom and some other English speaking countries, it is an obscene insulting gesture of defiance. During World War II, Winston Churchill popularised its use as a "Victory" sign (for V as in victory) initially with palm inwards and later in the war palm outwards. In the United States, with the palm outwards, and more recently, occasionally inward as well, it is also used to mean "Peace", a meaning that became popular during the peace movement of the 1960s. In East Asia the gesture is commonly used with the palm outward, connoting positive meaning.

Current usage

2009 Iranian election protests

V sign as an insult

The insulting version of the gesture (with the palm inwards) is often compared to the offensive gesture known as "the finger". The "two-fingered salute", also known as "the two" and as "The Vicky" in the West of Scotland,[citation needed] as it is also known, is commonly performed by flicking the V upwards from wrist or elbow. The V sign, when the palm is facing toward the person giving the sign, has long been an insulting gesture in England,[4] and later in the rest of the United Kingdom; its use is largely restricted to the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.[5] It is frequently used to signify defiance (especially to authority), contempt or derision.[6]

As an example of the V sign (palm inward) as an insult, on 1 November 1990, The Sun, a popular British tabloid, ran an article on its front page with the headline "Up Yours, Delors" next to a large hand making a V sign protruding from a Union flag cuff. The Sun urged its readers to stick two fingers up at then President of the European Commission Jacques Delors, who had advocated an EU central government. The article attracted a number of complaints about its alleged racism, but the now defunct Press Council rejected the complaints after the editor of The Sun stated that the paper reserved the right to use vulgar abuse in the interests of Britain.[7][8]

For a time in the UK, "a Harvey (Smith)" became a way of describing the insulting version of the V sign, much as "the word of Cambronne" is used in France, or "the Trudeau salute" is used to describe the one-fingered salute in Canada. This happened because, in 1971, show-jumper Harvey Smith was disqualified for making a televised V sign to the judges after winning the British Show Jumping Derby at Hickstead. (His win was reinstated two days later.)[9]

Harvey Smith pleaded that he was simply using a Victory sign, a defence also used by other figures in the public eye.[10] Sometimes foreigners visiting the countries mentioned above use the "two-fingered salute" without knowing it is offensive to the natives, for example when ordering two beers in a noisy pub, or in the case of the United States president George H. W. Bush, who while touring Australia in 1992, attempted to give a "peace sign" to a group of farmers in Canberra—who were protesting about U.S. farm subsidies—and instead gave the insulting V sign.[11]

On April 3, 2009, Scottish football players Barry Ferguson and Allan McGregor were permanently banned from the Scottish national squad for showing the V sign while sitting on the bench during the game against Iceland. Both players had been in their hotel bar drinking alcohol after the Scottish defeat to Holland until around 11 am the next morning, meaning that both of the players breached the SFA discipline code before the incident as well, but the attitude shown by the V sign was considered to be so rude that the SFA decided never to include these players in the national line-up again.[12][13] Ferguson also lost the captaincy of Rangers as a result of the controversy.[14]


An early recorded use of the 'two-fingered salute' is in the Macclesfield Psalter of c.1330 (in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge), being made by a glove in the Psalter’s marginalia.[4]

According to a popular legend the two-fingers salute and/or V sign derives from the gestures of longbowmen fighting in the English army at the Battle of Agincourt (1415) during the Hundred Years' War.[4][15] The story claims that the French claimed that they would cut off the arrow-shooting fingers of all the English longbowmen after they had won the battle at Agincourt. But the English came out victorious and showed off their two fingers, still intact. Historian Juliet Barker quotes Jean Le Fevre (who fought on the English side at Agincourt) as saying that Henry V included a reference to the French cutting off longbowmen's fingers in his pre-battle speech.[16] If this is correct it confirms that the story was around at the time of Agincourt, although it doesn't necessarily mean that the French practised it, just that Henry found it useful for propaganda, and it does not show that the 'two-fingers salute' is derived from the hypothetical behaviour of English archers at that battle. Indeed, there is no record of this explanation for the V sign before the 1970s, and it seems to be a popular myth.[citation needed]

The first definitive known reference to the ‘V-sign’ in French is in the works of François Rabelais, a sixteenth-century satirist.[17]

It was not until the start of the 20th century that clear evidence of the use of insulting V sign in England became available, when in 1901 a worker outside Parkgate ironworks in Rotherham used the gesture, (captured on the film), to indicate he did not like being filmed.[18] Peter Opie interviewed children in the 1950s and observed in The Lore And Language Of Schoolchildren that the much older thumbing of the nose (cock-a-snook) had been replaced by the V-sign as the most common insulting gesture used in the playground.[10]

Desmond Morris discussed various possible origins of the V sign in Gestures: Their Origins and Distribution, (published 1979) and came to no definite conclusion:

because of the strong taboo associated with the gesture (its public use has often been heavily penalized). As a result, there is a tendency to shy away from discussing it in detail. It is "known to be dirty" and is passed on from generation to generation by people who simply accept it as a recognized obscenity without bothering to analyse it... Several of the rival claims are equally appealing. The truth is that we will probably never know...

— Desmond Morris[10]

The V campaign and the victory/freedom sign

V for victory on a Norwegian stamps of August 1941
Winston Churchill waving the V sign.
During the German occupation of Jersey, a stonemason repairing the paving of the Royal Square incorporated a V for victory under the noses of the occupiers. This was later amended to refer to the Red Cross ship Vega. The addition of the date 1945 and a more recent frame has transformed it into a monument

On January 14, 1941, Victor de Laveleye, former Belgian minister of Justice and director of the Belgian French-speaking broadcasts on the BBC (1940-1944), suggested in a broadcast that Belgians use a V for victoire (French: “victory”) and Vrijheid (Dutch: "freedom") as a rallying emblem during World War II. He said that "the occupier, by seeing this sign, always the same, infinitely repeated, [would] understand that he is surrounded, encircled by an immense crowd of citizens eagerly awaiting his first moment of weakness, watching for his first failure." Indeed, within weeks chalked up Vs began appearing on walls throughout Belgium, the Netherlands and northern France.[19].

Buoyed by this success, the BBC set out a plan, the “V campaign”, for which they put in charge the assistant news editor Douglas Ritchie posing as “Colonel Britton”. Richie suggested an audible V using its Morse code rhythm (three dots and a dash). Having the same rhythm, the opening bars of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony was then used as the call-sign by the BBC in its foreign language programmes to occupied Europe for the rest of the war. The irony that they were composed by a German was not lost on many of the audience or for the more musically educated that it was "Fate knocking on the door" of the Third Reich. (Listen to this call-sign.)[19]. The BBC also encouraged the use of the V gesture introduced by De Laveley[20]

By July 1941 the emblematic use of the letter V had spread through occupied Europe and on July 19 Winston Churchill put the British government’s stamp of approval on the V campaign in a speech[21], from which point he started using the V hand sign. Early on he used palm in (sometimes with a cigar between the fingers).[22] Later in the war he used palm out.[23] It is claimed that the aristocratic Churchill made the change after it was explained to him what it signified to the other classes in Britain.[10][24]. Other allied leaders used the sign as well; since 1942, Charles de Gaulle used the V sign in every speech until 1969.[25]

Vietnam War, victory and peace

Nixon departing the White House on 9 August 1974

U.S. President Richard Nixon used it to signal victory, an act which became one of his best-known trademarks. He also used it on his departure from public office following his resignation in 1974.

A similar sign was used in protests against the Vietnam War (and subsequent anti-war protests) and by the counterculture as a sign of peace. Because the hippies of the day often flashed this sign (palm out) while vocalizing "Peace", it became popularly known (through association) as the peace sign.[26]

Japan and the V sign in photographs

One account of the V sign's use in portrait photographs claims that during the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Hokkaidō figure skater Janet Lynn stumbled into Japanese pop culture when she fell during a free-skate period—but continued to smile even as she sat on the ice. Though she placed only third in the actual competition, her cheerful diligence and indefatigability resonated with many Japanese viewers, making her an overnight celebrity in Japan. Afterwards, Lynn (a peace activist) was repeatedly seen flashing the V sign in the Japanese media. Though the V sign was known of in Japan prior to Lynn's use of it there (from the post-WWII Allied occupation of Japan), she is credited by some Japanese for having popularized its use in amateur photographs.[26] According to another theory, the V sign was popularized by the actor and singer Jun Inoue, who showed it in a Konica photo camera commercial in 1972. Japanese may also be associating with their onomatopoeia (gitaigo) for smiling. The number "two" is "ni" in Japanese, and the onomatopoeia for smiling generally begins with the sound "ni-", such as "niko niko" or "niya niya." [27]


Young women giving V gesture in Tokyo, Japan (2006)


  1. ^ Air quotes entry on by Gary Martin.
  2. ^ Staff. American Manual Alphabet Chart Center for Disability Information & Referral (CeDIR), Indiana Institute on Disability and Community at Indiana University,
  3. ^ See, ASL University
  4. ^ a b c Staff Henry V,British Shakespeare Company.Accessed 23 April 2008
  5. ^ V sign as an insult:
  6. ^ Defiance, contempt or derision:
  7. ^
  8. ^ BBC NEWS | Politics | From two jags to two fingers
  9. ^ Staff On this Day 15 August 1971: 'V-sign' costs rider victory "BBC The infamous gesture won him an entry in the Chambers dictionary which defined 'a Harvey Smith' as 'a V-sign with the palm inwards, signifying derision and contempt'". Accessed 23 April 2008
  10. ^ a b c d Staff. The V sign, Accessed 23 April 2008
  11. ^ Webster Griffin Tarpley and Anton Chaitkin (2004). George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography, Progressive Press paperback edition (2004), p. 651(web link to Chapter -XXV- Thyroid Storm). Tarpley & Chaitkin cite the Washington Post, 3 January 1992.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Barry Ferguson and Allan McGregor banned for life by Scotland, The Guardian, Friday 3 April 2009
  14. ^
  15. ^ Glyn Harper Just the Answer Alumni Magazine [Massey University] November 2002.
  16. ^ Juliet Barker (2005). Agincourt: The King, the Campaign, the Battle Pub: Little, Brown. ISBN 978-0-316-72648-1 (UK). ISBN 978-0-316-01503-5 (U.S.: Agincourt: Henry V and the Battle That Made England (2006)). p. 284
  17. ^ Staff. Henry V,British Shakespeare Company.Accessed 23 April 2008
  18. ^ Staff. The V sign,
  19. ^ a b The V-campaign at the virtual radiomusem
  20. ^ [ The V sign at BBC’s H2G2 website
  21. ^ "Newswatch 1940s".
  22. ^ Churchill outside Downing Street
  23. ^ Churchill's famous victory sign
  24. ^ Staff. The V Sign The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA).
  25. ^ Archive video of Charles de Gaulle's speech at the London Albert Hall, 11 November 1942
  26. ^ a b Staff. The Japanese Version (the Sign of Peace) ICONS. A portrait of England. Accessed 1 June 2008
  27. ^