Date: Sat, 29 Nov 1997 11:48:56 -0500 From: Gregory {Greg} Downing Subject: V-gesture and "Ich bin ein Berliner" At 06:59 PM 11/29/97 +1100, you (pbryant[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] wrote: >I vaguely remember reading somewhere that when Churchill created the >V-for-victory sign, one of his staff had to take him aside and explain >to him that he'd better do it with his palm turned outwards, but this >might be apocryphal, dreamt up by an Australian. Is it only in Australia >that the sign with the palm turned inward is offensive? > No -- when I was in England (London and suburbs) in high school in the 1970s, the gesture done with the index and middle fingers in a V shape with the back of the hand facing forward (away from the gesturer) meant stick it up your ---, or "up yours". It was extremely common (amybe the most common of all obscene gestures) from middle-class downwards, among the younger set (10s/20s/30s), though it may well have been around a very long time and older people were simply not willing to use such a graphic gesture as openly as people my age obviously were. On Berliner, the proper German way to say what JFK meant, as someone pointed out but someone else did not understand, would be "Ich bin Berliner" (I am [a] Berliner). "Ich bi ein Berliner" is how an American using English assumptions would wrongly put it, which would literally mean (absent context) "I am a/one jelly-donut." But everyone knew JFK didn't speak proper German, was likely to make typical American mistakes in speaking it, and had no reason to claim status as a pastry. They understood exactly what his meaning was, just as a native speaker of English would understand an ESL speaker making a slip, when the sense was clear from context. Context is a big issue in understanding language -- that's no surprise to anyone here. It would require a pretty unusual context for a German speaker really to understand "Ich bin ein Berliner" as a serious avowal of pastryhood. Some kind of figurative use, poetry or literature maybe. Maybe: Gregor awoke one morning, und er war ein Berliner. Greg Downing/NYU, at greg.downing[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] or downingg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]