When was the last time you flipped someone the bird?

By Laura Bergells on

Earlier this week, I showed this image of an adorable baby during a body language training segment.

I asked the class, “Is this baby angry?”

Baby Flips the Bird

The class smirked. Sure, the baby’s flipping the bird, but the infant’s not angry. A baby has no idea that showing the middle finger might be an obscene or angry gesture.

However, the photo inspired another thought-provoking discussion. One student commented that he couldn’t remember a time when someone seriously flipped him the bird. The bird is seen as more of a “fun and friendly” gesture than an obscene one.

I had to agree. I can’t remember the last time someone flipped me the bird in anger! However, I can recall a number of times when friends flipped me the bird ironically or in mock outrage — and vice versa.

The context for ironic bird flipping usually occurs when you say something obtuse, challenging, or intentionally provocative to a pal or colleague. Your chum cheerfully acknowledges your japing remark with a friendly, ironic bird flip and a half-grin.

It’s all in good fun, and no one is legitimately appalled or hurt. Example:

Work colleague:
“What do you say we organize a company golf scramble for June?”

You:
“Really? You still want to play golf after last year’s event when you lost 4 balls in the pond?”

Work colleague:
Flips you the bird with a twisted, tortured smile.

You:
Don’t call the HR Department for harassment. Don’t throw fisticuffs. Instead, recognize that you and your colleague are deepening your relationship with a little smack talk…and a hand gesture.

Groovy. Epic. Awesome. Gnarly. Many words and phrases lose their emotional significance due to overuse (see Lake Superior State University’s annual list of banished words for more ‘amazing’ examples). However, we seldom look at gestures to see if they’ve lost their ability to provoke.

It’s 2012. Has ‘the bird’ lost its emotional power to inspire anger or outrage?