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Friday, March 28, 2014

Where Is Thumbkin?

I remember singing a song when I was little that was all about phalanges. The song didn't actually use the word phalanges--a pity, too, as it's such a delightful word--but much fun was had by all singing about each individual finger. (You can see the words here.) Here is some more fun with fingers:
  • The thumb was called the thuma in Old English (Finger). As a freshman in high school, I remember being highly amused by the meaning of thumb biting in Romeo and Juliet. When Mr. Baugh explained that scene with "No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I bite my thumb, sir," I think the whole class was impressed with Shakespeare's raunchy writing (and ready to read more!)
  • The index finger was called the towcher in Old English, and the toucher in Middle English because, well, you know, you touch things with it. The Anglo-Saxons called it the scite or shooting finger (Finger).

  • In Old English, the middle finger was called long-man, just like in the nursery song (Finger).
  • The ring finger was called lec-man in Old English. Lec referred to leeches, so if you're thinking of old-timey medicine (Old English old-timey medicine) it is obviously the "medical" finger. The "Old English" weren't the only ones to label the fourth finger as medical. The Romans called the fourth finger digitus annularis, or literally, the ring finger. The Anglo-Saxons called it the gold-finger (No, not Auric Goldfinger!) This nomenclature influences us to this day. We wear our wedding rings on the fourth finger because the ancients believed that a nerve ran from that finger to our hearts. They also "used it for stirring mixtures under the notion that it would give instant warning to the heart if it came into contact with anything noxious" (Finger).

  • The Anglo-Saxons called our smallest finger the ear finger because, naturally, it's the one people use to scratch inside their ears (Finger). I've always called it my pinky, and it turns out that the Scots use the word pinky (or pinkie, if you prefer) to describe anything tiny. According to The Encyclopedia of Superstitions, "a crooked little finger is often considered a sign that the person will die rich, but this wealth is likely to have been made in a dubious way."
I hope I get to enjoy my dubiously made money some before I die!

Finger. (2012). In Brewer's dictionary of phrase and fable. Retrieved from
Pinkie. Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. Print.!.jpg
Webster, Richard. The Encyclopedia of Superstitions. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2008. Print.

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