• synonyms


  1. a screw, the head of which is so constructed that it may be turned easily with the thumb and a finger.
  2. Often thumbscrews. an old instrument of torture by which one or both thumbs were compressed.
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Origin of thumbscrew

First recorded in 1705–15; thumb + screw
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for thumbscrew

Historical Examples

  • I suppose they still use the rack and the thumbscrew in this benighted country?

    The Madcap of the School

    Angela Brazil

  • The pressure can be adjusted by the thumbscrew on the balance.

  • Thumbscrew him till he tells, and see how much he has to tell.

    Hurricane Island

    H. B. Marriott Watson

  • "Yes, I expect the thumbscrew hurt," said Reggie, meditatively.

    The Rubicon

    E. F. Benson

  • When the measure is set, make the thumbscrew as tight as possible with the fingers.


    A. A. Stewart

British Dictionary definitions for thumbscrew


  1. an instrument of torture that pinches or crushes the thumbs
  2. a screw with projections on its head enabling it to be turned by the thumb and forefinger
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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