In automobile driving culture, giving the finger to a fellow motorist communicates displeasure at another person's reckless driving habits and/or their disregard for common courtesy.
Sometimes, though, the "mistake" is actually an intentional euphemism meant to indirectly convey the gesture in a medium where a direct description would be inappropriate. Bush, former President of the United States, accidentally made the gesture while on a diplomatic trip to Australia.
During the USS Pueblo incident, in which an American ship was captured by North Korea, the captured American crewmembers often discreetly gave the finger in staged photo ops, thus ruining the North Koreans' efforts at propaganda.
The North Koreans, ignorant of what the gesture meant, were at first told by the prisoners that it was a "Hawaiian good luck sign", similar to the shaka.
Many cultures use similar gestures to display their disrespect, although others use it to express pointing without intentional disrespect toward other cultures.
The gesture is usually used to express contempt but can also be used humorously or playfully.
The gesture communicates moderate to extreme contempt, and is roughly equivalent in meaning to "fuck off," "fuck you," "shove it up your ass," "up yours," or "go fuck yourself." It is performed by showing the back of a hand that has only the middle finger extended upwards, though in some locales, the thumb is extended.
Extending the finger is considered a symbol of contempt in several cultures, especially in the West.
Professional wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin is also famous for flashing one or both middle fingers as part of his gimmick.
During World War II, the 91st Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces referred to the gesture as the "rigid digit" salute.
It was used in a more jocular manner, to suggest an airman had committed an error or infraction; the term was a reference to British slang terms for inattentiveness (i.e. The "order of the rigid digit" continued after the war as a series of awards presented by the veteran's association of the 91st, marked by wooden statuettes of a hand giving the single finger gesture.
When the guards finally figured things out, the crewmembers were subjected to extremely severe beatings.
Nelson Rockefeller, then the Vice President of the United States, directed the gesture to hecklers at a 1976 campaign stop near Binghamton, New York, leading it to be called the "Rockefeller gesture".