One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
1A soft coral that has spongy lobes stiffened by calcareous spines. When found washed up on the beach it is said to resemble the fingers of a corpse.
Alcyonium digitatum, order Alcyonacea
- ‘Huge boulders surround the site, festooned in dead man's fingers and plumose and dahlia anemones.’
- ‘This drift dive took us past vast boulders at a depth of about 25m, each with its own individual character - on one we found jewel anemones, on another dead man's fingers, on the next sponges or orange plumose anemones.’
- ‘Unlike the more northerly wrecks of the British Isles, the Oost Vlaanderen isn't covered in dead man's fingers or plumose anemones.’
- ‘So far it has been a dive typical of the area, with crawfish, lobsters, clumps of white and yellow dead man's fingers, sea urchins grazing paths across the rocks, and small jewel anemones on any spaces left.’
- ‘On her dives, Louise is likely to catch sight of lobster, starfish and octopus, as well as plants such as sea cucumbers, dead man's fingers and soft and hard corals.’
- ‘The rocky seabed is covered in jewel anemones, dead man's fingers and hydroids.’
2A fungus that produces clumps of dull black, irregular, fingerlike fruiting bodies at the bases of dead tree stumps in Eurasia and North America.
Xylaria polymorpha, family Xylariaceae, phylum Ascomycota
- ‘I recall the fungi protruding through the duff: dead man's fingers, jelly babies, coral fungus, and earth tongue.’
- ‘Dead man's fingers, a wood-digesting fungus that produces a variety of different dull-colored club-like fruiting bodies, is most likely not a single species.’
- ‘The dead man's fingers fungus also causes root rot disease.’
3informal The fingerlike divisions of a lobster's or crab's gills.
- ‘Open the crab, remove the 'dead man's fingers' and cut the body into four.’
- ‘You end up standing in the kitchen, apron on, hair tied back, getting increasingly, well, crabby, as you pick and shove your way through bones, cartilage and dead man's fingers.’
- ‘Next, remove the crab's gills, or dead man's fingers, from the abdomen and throw them away.’
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