A gesture

I don’t think I had an especially sheltered upbringing, but I don’t quite understand a reference in John Brophy’s The Bitter End (1930). Donald, the hero, is strongly attracted to Celia, an upper-class WAAC, until one day she makes a gesture:

There was current at the time a slang phrase used to express intense pleasure and triumph and accompanied by a gesture of the fingers. Everyone not too genteel used it, in this sense, but among coarser and more knowing people it passed as a euphemism for the sexual act performed illicitly.

Celia makes the gesture, in the company of soldiers, presumably in the innocent sense, and Donald is overcome by shame and embarrassment:

He lost all balance and control; hot surges of shame and rage and grief shook through him. He hurried blindly out of the room.

Brophy editorialises that ‘A saner or older man would never have made Donald’s mistake.’
The embarrassing incident is convincingly described – so convincingly that I bet it is autobiography – but what I’m not sure about is – What exactly was the gesture? Any suggestions will be gratefully received.



  1. paul johnson
    Posted May 26, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Probably the “two finger salute”
    First two fingers up, rest folded in and usually made in a thrusting upward motion. Similar in meaning to the one finger salute.
    Never knew it to have a genteel side though.

  2. Posted May 26, 2009 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    The two-finger V-sign was always an “up yours” gesture, I think.
    I suspect that the gesture Brophy is talking about is the circle made with thumb and forefinger, but I can’t be certain. And what word went with it?

    • Posted May 27, 2009 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      Could it be the thumb between the index and middle finger of the clenched fist? I too have no idea of the phrase – ironically, Brophy would have been just the person to have recorded it somewhere!

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