A British Soldier Gives Two-finger Salute To German POWs Captured At Second Battle Of El Alamein, Egypt, 1942

May 13, 2021

In this colorized image from World War II, a British soldier is gesturing to captured German prisoners of war -- and he's not waving hello. Known as (among other names) the "two-finger salute," his gesture is considered offensive in many countries. His side has just defeated forces fighting to take over the world and fueled by Nazi ideology, ending their campaign for Egypt at the Second Battle of El Alamein, so perhaps a little vulgarity is justified.

Image colorized by Mads Madsen

There are so many ways to misunderstand people as they communicate, and the use of hand gestures is just one of them. Simple gestures communicate vastly different expressions depending on the culture, and the exact way that gesture is communicated. 

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Sourec: (Wikimedia).

In the case of the British soldier’s gesture in this photograph, a “V” with the palm turned back towards the signer, the meaning is akin to flipping the middle finger, which would also be understood in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and South Africa, as well as the U.K. It is connected as well to defiance. There is a legend about its origins, but this appears to just be a myth. The first real evidence of its use in the U.K. was in 1901; a worker outside Parkgate ironworks in Rotherham gestured to indicate that he didn’t want to be filmed.