Many people today think of the “V” sign as meaning Peace, but in reality, the “V” sign used today was actually hijacked. The original “V” sign meant Victory, and it was originally presented as such by Winston Spencer-Churchill at a time when Britain is at one of its lowest points in World War II. Churchill is well known as one of the greatest motivators and speech makers of his time. On July 19, 1941, he launched the “V for Victory” campaign across Europe by telling those in Europe under Nazi control to use the letter “V” (for Victory) at every chance they got in speaking and writing. Churchill urged them to write a capital letter “V” to signify “V” for Victory. This was designed to let the Germans know they still had spirit and believed they would overcome Nazi Rule. The morale of the people was so important and this low point in history. When people give up hope, wars are lost…even before the battles are lost.
In this campaign, Churchill first gave a speech over the radio to tell the people of his plan. Immediately following his speech, the letter “V” began to appear everywhere. It was painted on walls, tapped out in Morse code on shop counters with knuckles or beer glasses or pencil stubs. It quickly became a rallying call across Europe that there was still hope. Many people weren’t aware, but this is also why Churchill’s most famous pictures from World War II always featured him giving the “V” for Victory Sign. He was continuously telling the people not to give up. That all was not lost, and Victory would still be theirs. We all know the “V” sign. Of course, it was made using the index and middle fingers, raised and parted to make a “V” shape while the other fingers are clenched.
These days, it can mean a number of things, and not all are good. When it is displayed with the palm inward toward the signer, it can be an offensive gesture in some Commonwealth nations (similar to showing the middle finger). That usage dates back to at least 1900. When it is given with the palm outward, it is to be read as a victory sign (“V for Victory”). This usage was first introduced in January 1941 as part of a campaign by the Allies of World War II and made more widely known by Churchill the following July. As most of us know, during the Vietnam War, in the 1960s, the “V sign” with palm outward was widely adopted by the counterculture as a symbol of peace. These days, that is the most commonly used meaning and is commonly called the “peace sign.” Of course, most of us also know that it is used for fun in photographs, especially in East Asia and the United States, where the gesture is also associated with cuteness…the “rabbit ears.” That one is one I have never really figured out. Not what it is, but why people think it’s so funny. Oh well…to each his own.