I knew that Berlusconi had made the cuckold sign behind a Spanish minister in 2002, so I was surprised to find another incident in Portugal, where a politician lost his job for giving the cuckold sign to the leader of the Communist parliamentary group.
For those of you who don’t know what a cuckold is, it’s a man who’s wife is cheating on him (there’s a vast amount of literature on the subject). It’s also implied that he doesn’t have the gall to confront her about it and that the situation is obvious to everyone in the community. To use common parlance, the man is whipped. And, surprise, surprise, it can be a pretty big insult—or just a joke. So the very symbol itself has heavy connotations.
In America, you only really see the “real cuckold” sign at metal concerts. We have our less serious form, known as “bunny ears” or the “v-sign” which might be a simplified, somewhat less serious cuckold sign. This prank is common, but people in the Latin world seem to prefer using the full cuckold sign, and it still carries with it the medieval meaning.
Cuckoldry is really a cross-cultural phenomenon, but there is an interesting explanation of what it meant to the Greeks, who took it a bit more seriously than some other cultures.
… the act of disobedience by which she damages her husband most severely is adultery. In adultery she makes her husband a cuckold (κερατ□ς), one who wears a horn. ‘She puts horns on him’ (το□ βάζει κέρατα), it is said. The implication that the cuckold wears a horn may be an ironical allusion to the sexual potency which his wife’s action suggests he does not possess (Campbell, 1964, p. 152)
As such, flashing the sign in a serious setting is essentially calling into question a man’s masculinity. I’m sure, in another era, duels were fought over it. Now you just lose your job.