- thumbs down,
- thumbs up,
Origin of thumbs-up
verb (used with object)
Origin of thumb
Word Origin 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.
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.
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
- all thumbs
- green thumb
- rule of thumb
- stick out (like a sore thumb)
- twiddle one's thumbs
- under someone's thumb