Giving us the finger

You see it every day - probably every few minutes - online. Monty Python was fond of it, the Victorians found it invaluable, and its history goes back at least to Elizabethan times, where it sprouts and multiplies in the margins of books like a particularly fecund dandelion.

You see it every day - probably every few minutes - online. Monty Python was fond of it, the Victorians found it invaluable, and its history goes back at least to Elizabethan times, where it sprouts and multiplies in the margins of books like a particularly fecund dandelion.

But it hasn't got a name: the little icon of the pointing hand. If you can't immediately visualise it, hover your pointer over the tabs at the top of this page. Of course you know it - but what is it called?

It turns out that it isn't called anything. Or, rather, there's a multiplicity of names and no particular agreement. This is unusual - most typographical devices, beloved as they are of the more pedantic and rigorous, have long since been categorised: ¶ is a pilcrow, for example.

But nobody speaks to the hand. I know this, as I know about pilcrows, thanks to the ever delightful Languagehat blog, which has just brought the matter to our attention.

The best candidate for the fingering hand, by the way, is manicule - apparently in use in other languages, but mysteriously yet to become established in English. Lots more about this on LH, and I warmly encourage everyone to use this fine word at every possible opportunity.

Now, what's the correct term for a manicule with two fingers prominent...