verb (used with object)


    all thumbs, awkward; clumsy; bungling: The visitor almost knocked over a vase and seemed to be all thumbs.
    thumb one's nose,
    1. to put one's thumb to one's nose and extend the fingers as a crudely defiant or contemptuous gesture.
    2. 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.

Origin of thumb

before 900; Middle English; Old English thūma; cognate with Dutch duim, Old Saxon, Old High German dūmo (German Daumen), Old Norse thumall; akin to Latin tumēre to swell (tumor)
Related formsthumb·less, adjectivethumb·like, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for thumb

Contemporary Examples of thumb

Historical Examples of thumb

  • He's under that woman's thumb, of course, and she's told him he mustn't say a word.

    Within the Law

    Marvin Dana

  • The boy pointed with his thumb to the door of the cashier's office.


    W. A. Fraser

  • By the awkwardness of the unpacker, the statue's thumb was broken.

  • "All gettee out," he said, jerking his thumb in the direction of the court of mystery.

    The Monster Men

    Edgar Rice Burroughs

  • She keeps Jenkins under her thumb, just as Galloway keeps me.

    The Channings

    Mrs. Henry Wood

British Dictionary definitions for thumb



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
Derived Formsthumbless, adjectivethumblike, adjective

Word Origin for thumb

Old English thūma; related to Old Saxon thūma, Old High German thūmo, Old Norse thumall thumb of a glove, Latin tumēre to swell
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for thumb

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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

thumb in Medicine




The short thick digit of the human hand, next to the index finger and opposable to each of the other four digits.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Idioms and Phrases with thumb


In addition to the idioms beginning with thumb

  • thumb a ride
  • thumb one's nose
  • thumbs up

also see:

  • all thumbs
  • green thumb
  • rule of thumb
  • stick out (like a sore thumb)
  • twiddle one's thumbs
  • under someone's thumb
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.