- the short, thick, inner digit of the human hand, next to the forefinger.
- the corresponding digit in other animals; pollex.
- the part of a glove or mitten for containing this digit.
- Architecture. an ovolo or echinus molding.
verb (used with object)
- to soil or wear with the thumbs in handling, as the pages of a book.
- to glance through (the pages of a book, leaflet, etc.) quickly.
- to play (a guitar or other instrument) with or as with the thumbs.
- (of a hitchhiker) to solicit or get (a ride) by pointing the thumb in the desired direction of travel.
- all thumbs, awkward; clumsy; bungling: The visitor almost knocked over a vase and seemed to be all thumbs.
- thumb one’s nose,
- to put one’s thumb to one’s nose and extend the fingers as a crudely defiant or contemptuous gesture.
- to express defiance or contempt; dismiss or reject contemptuously.
- thumbs down, a gesture or expression of dissent or disapproval: We turned thumbs down to that suggestion.
- thumbs up, a gesture or expression of assent or approval.
- under one’s thumb, under the power or influence of; subordinate to.Also under the thumb of.
- the first and usually shortest and thickest of the digits of the hand, composed of two short bonesTechnical name: pollex Related adjective: pollical
- the corresponding digit in other vertebrates
- the part of a glove shaped to fit the thumb
- architect another name for ovolo
- all thumbs clumsy
- thumbs down an indication of refusal, disapproval, or negationhe gave the thumbs down on our proposal
- thumbs up an indication of encouragement, approval, or acceptance
- under someone’s thumb at someone’s mercy or command
- (tr) to touch, mark, or move with the thumb
- to attempt to obtain (a lift or ride) by signalling with the thumb
- (when intr, often foll by through) to flip the pages of (a book, magazine, etc) perfunctorily in order to glance at the contents
- thumb one’s nose at to deride or mock, esp by placing the thumb on the nose with fingers extended
Old English þuma, from West Germanic *thumon- (cf. Old Frisian thuma, Old Saxon, Old High German thumo, German Daumen, Dutch duim “thumb,” Old Norse þumall “thumb of a glove”), literally “the stout or thick (finger),” from PIE *tum- “swell” (cf. Latin tumere “to swell,” tumidus “swollen;” Avestan tuma “fat;” see thigh). For spelling with -b (attested from late 13c.), see limb.
To be under (someone’s) thumb “be totally controlled by that person” is recorded from 1580s. Thumbs up (1887) and thumbs down (1906) were said to be from expressions of approval or the opposite in ancient amphitheaters, especially gladiator shows, where the gesture decided whether a defeated combatant was spared or slain. But the Roman gesture was merely one of hiding the thumb in the hand or extending it. Perhaps the modern gesture is from the usual coachmen’s way of greeting while the hands are occupied with the reins.
“to go through” (especially of printed material), 1930, from thumb (n.), though the related sense of “soil or wear by handling” dates from 1640s. Meaning “to hitchhike” is 1939; originally the thumb pointed in the direction one wished to travel. Related: Thumbed; thumbing. To thumb (one’s) nose as an expression of derision is recorded from 1903.
- The short thick digit of the human hand, next to the index finger and opposable to each of the other four digits.
Clumsy or awkward: “Where plumbing is concerned, Walter is all thumbs.”
Physically awkward, especially with respect to the hands, as in When it comes to knitting, Mary is all thumbs. The notion of this idiom derives from a proverb in John Heywood’s collection of 1546: “When he should get aught, each finger is a thumb.”
In addition to the idioms beginning with thumb
- thumb a ride
- thumb one’s nose
- thumbs up
- all thumbs
- green thumb
- rule of thumb
- stick out (like a sore thumb)
- twiddle one’s thumbs
- under someone’s thumb