Where did the phrase "three-fingered salute", meaning to press CTRL-ALT-DELETE on the keyboard, come from?

As the "two-fingered salute" appears to be a mainly British gesture, I suspect the three-fingered variety is British too. But suspicion isn't evidence.

3 Answers 3


Esteemed writer Charles Petzold used the term in a PC Magazine article back in 1986. He suspects he was the first, and I suspect he's right.


In the IT world, there are a number of amusing jargon terms for commonly-performed routines. In this case, the 'salute' is (likely; I have no canonical reference for this, as the Jargon File merely calls it a synonym for the Vulcan Nerve Pinch) intended ironically as a mark of (dis)respect towards Mr. Gates' most well-known products.

The earliest reference I've been able to locate comes from an FAQ from 1994, where the familiarity with the term indicates that it's been in common use for some time. I suspect that if I had access to usenet archives that the initial usage would be found sometime earlier, probably in the comp.sci newsgroups.

This bit of jargon has held up rather well, as it's still very much in common use today amongst IT professionals; the usage as an authentication prerequisite in windows-environment systems (which I've thought to be a spectacular joke, personally) has only rendered the use of the term more common.


To me, that's a euphemism for "flipping someone off". The adaptation to Ctrl-Alt-Del would seem to echo the feelings one may have when having to recover from a hung application. I imagine that this connection may have weakened after Win2k gave Ctrl-Alt-Del a broader application.

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