MIDWAY : Handy guide to insults

George Bush was on the receiving end of the worst of all Middle Eastern insults at the weekend when an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at the outgoing US president at a press conference in Baghdad. Throwing a shoe at a person’s head isn’t, of course, considered insulting in only the Islamic world, though it does carry a particularly degrading symbolism. Bush steps down in January, but this surely won’t be the last offensive gesture he encounters on his travels. Here, then, is our handy guide.

The V sign: In his book Gestures the anthropologist Desmond Morris concluded that we will never know the origin of the two-fingered salute. One theory, though widely discredited, is that the French threatened to cut off the fingers of English archers at the Battle of Agincourt; the English would hold up two fingers as a sign that the French had failed.

The thumbs up: In the Middle East, this is possibly the biggest insult you can inflict with your shoes on. A Fonz-style double thumbs up adds insult to insult. The same goes for parts of west Africa and South America. Loosely translates as “sit on this”. The OK sign Like the thumbs up, the hand gesture that westerners know to mean everything is fine (it comes from the hand signals used by divers) has other meanings elsewhere. Do it to someone in southern Europe, and you’ll be telling them they are “nothing” (or “zero”); in Brazil or Turkey an “arsehole”.

Bunny ears: Although this gesture is more commonly considered a prank to sabotage photographs, it is closely related to the Italian cornuto gesture, whereby two “horns” held up behind someone’s head are supposed to imply their spouse is cheating on them. Biting the thumb: “I will bite my thumb at them, which is a disgrace to them, if they bear it,” so said Sampson to his fellow Capulet servant Gregory in the first scene of Romeo and Juliet.

Rarely used in southern Europe these days but surely due for a comeback. Open hand: Nobody likes having an open palm thrust in their face? The aggression is obvious ? Though in Greece, where it is known as the moutza, it means “I rub shit in your face”. It originated in Byzantine Greece where criminals were paraded through the streets, faces blackened with soot, or worse.