|Mr. Rogers cracking up as he leads|
some kids in Where Is Thumbkin
The one-finger salute, a favorite among punk rockers and driving enthusiasts, is an obscene gesture meant to represent... penetrating someone with a teeny tiny weenie or something. According to Snopes and Mental Floss, no one is exactly sure where the gesture was born, but it's way older than I would have thought. According to Mental Floss, the gesture was a favorite of Caligula, who liked to make his enemies kiss his middle finger, but considering Caligula's proclivities, having to kiss dude's middle finger was getting off easy.
If you're ever in Turkey, it would be best not to play I've Got Your Nose with the locals - the gesture, known as the fig, is only "mildly obscene," according to Wikipedia, and generally means bugger off. Fig in this sense appears to be etymologically unrelated to the sex act known as figging, which I'm neither going to describe nor present the etymology of. Oh, I know the etymology, but, you know, my mom's reading this. Hi Mom.
In American sign language, this gesture isn't rude at all - it's the letter T. Twist your fist and it means toilet. Dante wants you to know that it is not acceptable to give God a fig. When a dude did so in The Inferno, he got strangled and gagged by some snakes. Been there done that, I tell ya. In ancient Greece, the gesture was used to ward off the evil eye.
And speaking of the evil eye, let's talk about throwing the horns, a gesture once synonymous with heavy metal and now, well...
During the Satanic panic, it was thought to represent devil horns, or the number 666... somehow. However, to the metal singer who popularized the gesture, Ronnie James Dio, it meant no such thing. He picked up the gesture from his Italian grandma who used it to ward off the evil eye. (Special thanks to Tony for bringing this to my attention).
The evil eye, by the way, is when someone curses you by looking at you funny. According to Wikipedia, a ton of cultures all over the world believe or believed in the evil eye. Different cultures have different names for it, but my favorite is the Hawaiian maka pilau, which translates loosely to stink eye.