From my experience, many English-speaking people insist a thumb is not a finger, or at least seem to be familiar with the idea. Now, I am very curious about its origin, so my question is: where/when do you natives hear it? As children? Is it something your mum tells you? Is there any nursery rhyme, or something? Or maybe at school? Do your teachers say: hello class, lo, I will tell you a mystery? Or are there any historic reasons? Is there any popular story/quote/joke that involves - and so reinforces - the idea?
Dorota Guttfeld,
Poland
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Subject: Thumbs - just curious From: Dorota Guttfeld From my experience, many English-speaking people insist a thumb is not a ... the idea. Now, I am very curious about its origin, so my question is: where/when do you natives hear it?

Us natives hear it everywhere. Of course, one would be foolish to insist that a thumb isn't a finger, because it obviously is; but surely the reason it has a special name is that it has a special function. I'd be surprised if you didn't have a name for it in Polish.
Peasemarch.
Qp10qp filted:
Subject: Thumbs - just curious From: Dorota Guttfeld From my ... so my question is: where/when do you natives hear it?

Us natives hear it everywhere. Of course, one would be foolish to insist that a thumb isn't a finger, because ... is that it has a special function. I'd be surprised if you didn't have a name for it in Polish.

When playing Spanish guitar, the left thumb is not a finger; the right one is..r
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Subject: Thumbs - just curious From: Dorota Guttfeld From my ... so my question is: where/when do you natives hear it?

Us natives hear it everywhere. Of course, one would be foolish to insist that a thumb isn't a finger, because it obviously is;

However, some people do insist just that, that the word "finger" applies to any of the four fingers but not to the thumb. Search on and you'll find some of them. Dorota has a valid question, as to how this came about, to the extent that it ever did.

Dorota, since you are looking for history: Webster's 1828 US Dictionary touched on it:
When we speak of the
fingers generally, we include the thumb; as the five fingers. But we often make a distinction.
I'll add it to my list of Subset-Whole Problems, where the same word (in this case, finger) is used for a subset (the four fingers) as well as the larger set (the four fingers plus thumb). These cause endless circular arguments.
but surely the reason it has a special name is that it has a special function. I'd be surprised if you didn't have a name for it in Polish.

Well, of course they do. I don't know Polish but I know they have a word for the thumb! That's not the question, it's whether their word for "fingers" always includes the thumb, too.
Like (not that we have to argue it) doesn't "Europe" often include the UK, yet it has been known to mean the Continent and not the UK? Similar logical divide, where a single element is included in one meaning and excluded in the other.

Best Donna Richoux
When playing Spanish guitar, the left thumb is not a finger; the right one is..r

Yes, but its symbol is +, whereas the other fingers are named ./../.../.. which shows quite a differentiation. Piano players treat thumbs equally and call them '1' (which is the left index finger for guitar players).
Best regards
Steffen
Perhaps because the word "thumb" enjoys a special treatment. I don't know of any other language that treats "thumb" as a verb.
Now, I am very curious about its origin, so my question is: where/when do you natives hear it? As children? ... Or are there any historic reasons? Is there any popular story/quote/joke that involves - and so reinforces - the idea?

There are plenty of idioms and sayings that include the word "thumb". From the top of my mind: "green thumb", i.e. a passion for gardening.
From an official source:
thumb n.
The short thick digit of the human hand, next to the index finger and opposable to each of the other four digits.
A corresponding digit in other animals, especially primates. Also called pollex.
The part of a glove or mitten that covers the thumb. Architecture. An ovolo.
v. thumbed, thumb·ing, thumbs
v. tr.
To scan (written matter) by turning over pages with or as if with the thumb. To disarrange, soil, or wear by careless or frequent handling. Informal. To solicit (a ride) from a passing vehicle by signaling with the thumb.
v. intr.
To scan written matter by turning over pages with or as if with the thumb: thumbed through the latest issue of the magazine.
Informal. To hitchhike.
Idioms:
all thumbs
Lacking physical coordination, skill, or grace; clumsy. thumb (one's) nose
To express scorn or ridicule by or as if by placing the thumb on the nose and wiggling the fingers.
thumbs down
An expression of rejection, refusal, or disapproval. thumbs up
An expression of approval, success, or hope.
under (one's) thumb
Under the control of someone; subordinate to.

(Middle English, from Old English thma. See teu- in Indo-European Roots.) Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
all thumbs
Physically awkward, especially with respect to the hands, as in When it comes to knitting, Mary is all thumbs. The notion of this idiom derives from a proverb in John Heywood's collection of 1546: "When he should get aught, each finger is a thumb."
Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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From my experience, many English-speaking people insist a thumb is not a finger, or at least seem to be familiar ... Or are there any historic reasons? Is there any popular story/quote/joke that involves - and so reinforces - the idea?

Technically, we even sometimes use a separate word which covers both: 'digit'. Certainly, if an English-speaker says "I've cut my finger" you'll know for sure that it wasn't a thumb.
We do have at least one little nursery singing-game; but it does, now you draw my attention to the subject, seem from the last verse to include thumbs as fingers. You and the child clench your fists, then sing "Tommy Thumb, Tommy Thumb, where are you?" Then, raising the thumbs, you sing "Here I am! Here I am! How do you do?" (On "How do you do?" the two thumbs waggle at one another in greeting.) The process goes on, through "Peter Pointer", "Toby Tall", "Ruby Ring", and "Baby Small", until the big ride-out chorus "Fingers all..Here we are!...How do you do?" Very satisfying.
I don't see why you imagine we might have to have special thumb-differentiation classes for our children! That's necessary only for foreign students who've already internalized a different naming system.
Mike (all thumbs, but one of them is slightly greenish. Two left feet, as well).
Us natives hear it everywhere. Of course, one would be foolish to insist that a thumb isn't a finger, because it obviously is;

However, some people do insist just that, that the word "finger" applies to any of the four fingers but not ... subset (the four fingers) as well as the larger set (the four fingers plus thumb). These cause endless circular arguments.

If you ever publish these lists you make, Donna, I'll buy your book. But only if you include the misles (which I assume already has one I came across again yesterday: "miniseries").
but surely the reason it has a special name is ... if you didn't have a name for it in Polish.

Well, of course they do. I don't know Polish but I know they have a word for the thumb! That's ... not the UK? Similar logical divide, where a single element is included in one meaning and excluded in the other.

Kciuk and palec are the Polish equivalents of thumb and finger, at least according to Poltran.com.

John H
Yorkshire, England
However, some people do insist just that, that the word "finger" applies to any of the four fingers but not ... of them. Dorota has a valid question, as to how this came about, to the extent that it ever did.

I'm particularly interested in how the difference is perceived. Is it something that people will notice once they start learning anatomy, or is it something you're supposed to know when still in your diapers?

Let's make a thought experiment: a four-year-old insists on calling his thumb a finger. Is it something you will accept as an approximation ("Oh, when you're older you're going to learn you're mistaken, but it's OK for now") or will you correct the child, just like you would if he had called his elbow a knee?
When we speak of the fingers generally, we include the thumb; as the five fingers. But we often make a distinction.

Thank you very much for this one, my Collins told me likewise. So, if you ask the Standard Medical Question, it's safest to phrase it "How many digitsdo you see?" Emotion: smile
I'll add it to my list of Subset-Whole Problems, where the same word (in this case, finger) is used for a subset (the four fingers) as well as the larger set (the four fingers plus thumb). These cause endless circular arguments.

Oh, I can see it's just like "rêka" in Polish, which you could translate as arm, forearm, hand, palm, arm+forearm+hand, etc., depending on the context.
Well, of course they do. I don't know Polish but I know they have a word for the thumb! That's not the question, it's whether their word for "fingers" always includes the thumb, too.

It does. In fact, it also includes toes. If you want to talk about toes specifically, you have to call them "leg-fingers".

However, it is interesting that, just like in English, the word for "thumb" doesn't contain the "finger" element. In Polish we have:
1. thumb ("kciuk")
2. pointing finger
3. middle finger
4. heart finger (probably because rings are worn on this one)
5. little finger

Probably thumbs are so special and important that they encourage some kind of splendid isolation in naming.
Like (not that we have to argue it) doesn't "Europe" often include the UK, yet it has been known to mean the Continent and not the UK? Similar logical divide, where a single element is included in one meaning and excluded in the other.

For the Polish the UK is certainly Europe, doubts start with Iceland. And, of course, historically and politically, the real doubt used to be: do People-Out-There consider Poland an element of the set named Europe Emotion: smile

dorota guttfeld
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