noun Informal.

an act, instance, or gesture of assent, approval, or the like.

Origin of thumbs-up

First recorded in 1920–25




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.

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

Related Words for thumbs up

approval, go-ahead, satisfaction

British Dictionary definitions for thumbs up



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 thumbs up



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

thumbs up 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.

thumbs up in Culture

thumbs up

Expressions of approval and disapproval respectively: “The two critics disagreed about the movie; one gave it thumbs up, the other thumbs down.” In the gladiatorial contests of ancient Rome, a thumbs-up gesture from the crowd meant that the loser would live; thumbs down meant death.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with thumbs up

thumbs up

An expression of approval or hopefulness, as in The town said thumbs up on building the elderly housing project. The antonym thumbs down indicates disapproval or rejection, as in Mother gave us thumbs down on serving beer at our party. Alluding to crowd signals used in Roman amphitheaters, these idioms were first recorded in English about 1600. In ancient times the meaning of the gestures was opposite that of today. Thumbs down indicated approval; thumbs up, rejection. Exactly when the reversal occurred is not known, but the present conventions were established by the early 1900s.


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.