Definition of thumb in US English:



  • 1The short, thick first digit of the human hand, set lower and apart from the other four and opposable to them.

    • ‘You know, twiddling your thumbs really isn't as easy as it looks, they keep knocking together.’
    • ‘She jerked her thumb over her shoulder towards the entrance without looking up.’
    • ‘To understand parallax, hold your arm straight out in front of you and raise your thumb.’
    • ‘The Italian rider suffered concussion and a fractured left thumb that needed hospital treatment.’
    • ‘While your arms are well rested to your sides, your sleeves should end where your thumbs begin.’
    • ‘It protrudes like a giant thumb from the east coast of Mexico, dividing the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean Sea.’
    • ‘This section passes through the four fingers, the thumb having been seen for the last time in the preceding section.’
    • ‘If you turn one hand so that both thumbs point the same way, that one will no longer be palm-up.’
    • ‘Do the exercise with your palms inward, thumbs pointing up.’
    • ‘Lowell, currently sidelined by a broken left thumb, is one of 15 Marlins eligible for arbitration.’
    • ‘C Jason Kendall is healthy again after a thumb injury ruined his 2001 season.’
    • ‘I jabbed a thumb in the opposite direction where an identical car was parked.’
    • ‘Occasionally babies are born without a thumb or with a rudimentary thumb.’
    • ‘I hooked my thumbs through my belt loops and observed the class.’
    • ‘The hands looked almost normal, with four fingers and an opposable thumb.’
    • ‘Mole crickets can wreak havoc on lawns and golf courses: the adults dig burrows as big across as your thumb, and the larvae eat grass roots.’
    • ‘Slowly everything around him lost clarity as he focused tightly on the thumb prints.’
    • ‘Nick held his thumb and forefinger apart about a half an inch.’
    • ‘I wore four other rings; two thumb rings, a pinky ring, and another index finger ring.’
    • ‘Using both hands, each testicle should be gently rolled between the thumb and index finger to find any lumps or irregular areas.’
    • ‘The most commonly affected digits are the thumb and index finger.’
    digit, first digit, opposable digit
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    1. 1.1 The corresponding digit of primates or other mammals.
      • ‘The forefeet have 5 digits, but the thumb is reduced in size. The hind feet have five functional digits.’
      • ‘Neighbors recognize each other by scent; unfamiliar visitors are greeted with a harsh snarl and a hooking thumb claw.’
      • ‘The thumb is small and has a vestigial claw, similar to the New World furipterids.’
      • ‘Stephen Jay Gould famously used the panda's thumb to illustrate the same principle.’
      • ‘One controversy centers on the utility of the Neanderthal thumb.’
      • ‘The thumb and toe claws have an extra talon, which is unique in bats.’
      • ‘Smoky bats are very small bats with much reduced thumbs that are mostly enclosed in the wing membrane.’
      • ‘Its retractable, switchblade-like claws on its thumbs worked as grappling hooks to bring an animal to the ground, Wroe said.’
      • ‘That argument is false, Sober said, because it assumes we know what God was trying to do with the panda's thumb.’
      digit, first digit, opposable digit
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    2. 1.2 The part of a glove intended to cover the thumb.
      • ‘The thumb part of the glove should fold down underneath the fingers and point down.’
      • ‘The top of the thumb is covered with nose friendly fabric so you can swipe away those tickles without rasping your shnoz.’
      • ‘Put a few drops of peppermint oil on the thumb patches of your gloves, so you can sniff on the fly.’
      • ‘A backhand catch in which the thumb of the glove points down and the glove-arm is positioned across the body must be practiced as much as the open-hand catch.’
      • ‘Normally, there are four types of design of the glove's thumb, which are Wing Thumb, Straight Thumb, Keystone Thumb, and Reversible Thumb.’


[with object]
  • 1Press, move, or touch (something) with one's thumb.

    ‘as soon as she thumbed the button, the door slid open’
    • ‘He leaned over and thumbed the remote beside the lamp.’
    • ‘He quickly thumbed the bee's wax out of his ears and tossed it on the ground.’
    • ‘She thumbed the safety back into the ‘on’ position.’
    • ‘Merlin thumbed the call switch and leaned forward.’
    • ‘But the not-so-silent majority who march through our streets shouting into their mobile phones, or are furiously thumbing text messages to one another, may be less concerned.’
    • ‘Despite the flurry of action as we hijack the room, he continues to thumb out a furious text message and refuses to say hello.’
    • ‘No sooner have you thumbed the remote control, than legions of sherry-sodden aunts, bickering uncles and brattish weans are filing out of your living room.’
    • ‘The pilot thumbs a firing button, and a family is blown to smithereens.’
    • ‘The intercom beeped on a console near the galley and Merlin moved to thumb the control.’
    • ‘He thumbed the buttons hard a couple of times, then pushed it aside.’
    • ‘The door slid aside when he thumbed a square button beside the panel, but the lights did not come on automatically as they had in the corridor.’
    • ‘At the ready with the muzzle up, you can quickly thumb a hammer back as you shoulder it.’
    • ‘He passed one of the youth gangs on the way, muttering into their phones and thumbing at their keyboards, coordinating their crimefighting activities.’
    • ‘The doorman thumbed the button and steel doors rang and parted open.’
    • ‘I thumbed the button on my cell phone which bore the symbol of a green handset.’
    • ‘He leaned forward and thumbed the intercom button on the computer terminal.’
    • ‘Nakamura fished a cell phone from his pants pocket, and the device chirped as he thumbed the two-way communication button.’
    • ‘However, at 127 minutes and with a dialogue-heavy middle, some more impatient folk may be thumbing the scan forward button.’
    press, push, push down, depress, lean on
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    1. 1.1 Turn over (pages) with or as if with one's thumb.
      ‘I've thumbed my address book and found quite a range of smaller hotels’
      no object ‘he was thumbing through that magazine for the umpteenth time’
      • ‘I was thumbing through the mail this afternoon, innocently enough, only to be frightened by this evil, leering tree that popped out at me.’
      • ‘I find myself picking this book up and thumbing through it repetitively.’
      • ‘The guard leans back in his booth, thumbing a paper, watching the clock.’
      • ‘When I thumbed through his journal at the shop today I had the strong feeling that he never intended for these thoughts to be publicised.’
      • ‘I sat on my bed and began thumbing through the pages of my fantasies.’
      • ‘Students at Manchester University no longer need to thumb through dusty texts when reading classics of English literature.’
      • ‘We've been thumbing through the guide to this year's Melbourne International Comedy Festival, trying to decide what we'll go see this year.’
      • ‘It's all the rage, flick on your TV, thumb through a magazine or listen to the radio - everyone's at it.’
      • ‘At the mid-point of the first running of this programme, I'm thumbing through some of those linkages in a self-imposed revision process.’
      • ‘The President looked up from the papers he was thumbing through, and referred to some large, recent pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Turkey.’
      • ‘Anyway, I am thumbing through the friendster pages via a search for ‘Interests: Blading’ in hope of finding some blading kakis.’
      • ‘I duly placed the chilled pies into the microwave and commenced the cooking process and began thumbing through the newspaper.’
      • ‘In fact, music critics everywhere are thumbing through a thesaurus, competing to compose a squirtier review of her impressive sophomore album.’
      • ‘‘This isn't working,’ mumbled Vladimir Vladimirovich as he pulled his presidential address book from his jacket pocket and started thumbing through it.’
      • ‘After thumbing through a few pages, I was hooked immediately.’
      • ‘Encyclopedias on CD-Rom can provide access to information much quicker than thumbing through stacks of books.’
      • ‘In terms of the Powell approach, I'm not sure exactly what the Powell approach is, other than thumbing through his Rolodex.’
      • ‘I picked up Toole's book because, thumbing through it, I'd read a paragraph that rang with truth as I had come to know it with Muhammad Ali.’
      • ‘But who can deny perusing the headlines, even thumbing through the pages, of the occasional supermarket tabloid while waiting to ring up our groceries?’
      • ‘Donna was eating Triscuts and thumbing through the Daily News.’
      leaf, flick, flip, skim, browse, glance, look, riffle
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    2. 1.2usually be thumbed Wear or soil (a book's pages) by repeated handling.
      ‘his dictionaries were thumbed and ink-stained’
      • ‘The following year I was keen to get hold of the latest version of the book that had become a well thumbed favourite.’
      • ‘A well-thumbed Bible is always open on his desk in Edmonton's Parliament Building.’
      • ‘The smell and feel of them but books that have been thumbed through by hundreds and gone yellowy don't have quite the same appeal.’
      • ‘Some are so well thumbed that the tattered pages look ready to crumble.’
      • ‘I do so love my books, so much so that I couldn't bring myself to read books that had been thumbed a thousand times over.’
      • ‘In our own kids' bookshelves, they're the most battered, thumbed and falling-apart books, so often have they been read.’
    3. 1.3 Request or obtain (a free ride in a passing vehicle) by signaling with one's thumb.
      ‘three cars passed me and I tried to thumb a ride’
      no object ‘he was thumbing his way across France’
      • ‘In those days, thumbing a lift was an accepted part of life for young people and even those who had long passed their middle age.’
      • ‘You could otherwise hope that a friendly soul at the Clachaig will offer a lift, or thumb a ride back: you would be unlucky if no-one stopped.’
      • ‘And even if he found out where he was working out in Rio, he couldn't very well thumb a ride out there, could he?’
      • ‘After twenty minutes of delicate, measured thumbing at passing traffic, could we get a car to stop?’
      • ‘She had thumbed through Central America with another girl.’
      • ‘Reagan also stood on the corner of routes 26 and 29 in Ohio while thumbing a ride to Dixon.’
      • ‘He had with him a folding bicycle and, thumbing a lift from the royal navy, safely crossed the channel and arrived back at Keevil, complete with bike.’
      • ‘I spent a lot of my time thumbing a lift on the road between Naas and Athy.’
      • ‘Plus, he couldn't risk drawing attention to himself by thumbing a ride.’
      • ‘The A819 out of Inveraray is the most direct route north, but after 40 minutes of fruitless thumbing I decided to start walking in the hope of finding a more advantageous pitch.’
      • ‘Later, while filling his car radiator with water at a service station, he offers a lift to a young woman who is also trying to thumb a ride west.’
      • ‘He has no transport so can often be spotted thumbing a lift to games around the area.’
      • ‘I was driving a car, I saw two people thumbing a lift near the Barlo garage on the outskirts of Kilkenny.’
      hitch-hike, ask for, request, signal for
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  • be all thumbs

    • Be clumsy or awkward in one's actions.

      ‘I'm all thumbs when it comes to making bows’
      • ‘His bumbling, childlike Mr Bean was all thumbs and two left feet, and the fact that he rarely spoke meant his vaudevillian humour travelled well.’
      • ‘I am not just all thumbs, more all toes.’
      • ‘I'm trying to get a PDF of the letter up as well, but I'm all thumbs with this pesky technology, so bear with me.’
      • ‘I've been all thumbs and screw up everything I touch.’
      • ‘You are all thumbs in the kitchen.’
      • ‘I'm all thumbs when it comes to any kind of decorating, even presents.’
      • ‘"When she is working in the house, she is all thumbs."’
      • ‘"I'm all thumbs when it comes to loading the reels."’
      • ‘"He's all thumbs, Amelia."’
      • ‘If you are all thumbs when it comes to your hair ask a talented friend or your favorite stylist to help you achieve this style.’
      clumsy, awkward, maladroit, inept, bungling, bumbling, incompetent, unskilful, heavy-handed, ungainly, inelegant, inexpert, graceless, ungraceful, gauche, unhandy, uncoordinated, gawky, cloddish, clodhopping
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  • thumb one's nose at

    • informal Show disdain or contempt for.

      • ‘There is nothing ordinary about a man who thumbs his nose at the system of justice and to reward him, in effect, with a pardon.’
      • ‘William Kristol has used the page to attack Colin Powell, George Will to thumb his nose at the State Department and Robert Novak to deride the CIA.’
      • ‘You can thumb your nose at all the people who are younger than you’
      • ‘Even more significantly, in having married a black woman, Becker seemed to be thumbing his nose at deeply ingrained Aryan idealism.’
      • ‘By thumbing our nose at the world and dismissing the consensus views of the scientific community, we are scaring off that talent and sending it to our competitors.’
      • ‘He had the women, he had the gadgets and he was thumbing his nose at what was considered politically correct at the time.’
      • ‘The reader or viewer who thumbs his nose at the copyright notice risks receiving a threatening letter from the copyright owner.’
      • ‘Yet instead of pursuing a bi-partisan agenda, he has thumbed his nose at over half of the American population.’
      • ‘We cannot allow activist local elected officials to thumb their nose at 5,000 years of human history.’
      • ‘All you know is, there's no rule she's afraid to thumb her nose at.’
      defy, go against, rebel against, flout, fly in the face of, disobey, refuse to obey, disregard, ignore, set one's face against, kick against
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  • thumbs up (or down)

    • informal An indication of satisfaction or approval (or of rejection or failure)

      ‘plans to build a house on the site have been given the thumbs down by the Department of the Environment’
      • ‘It's with great regret that I give a collective thumbs down to a movie starring the normally entertaining Matthew Perry.’
      • ‘Councillors agreed to send the letter at the January meeting of the local authority after giving the proposal a firm thumbs down.’
      • ‘I made my challenge and he accepted it with his version of a thumbs up.’
      • ‘The author - Jakob Nielsen - also gives a big thumbs down to subscriptions and advertisements.’
      • ‘All three chief officers of the services have given it the thumbs up.’
      • ‘Frequent-flier expert Randy Petersen gave a thumbs down to the move.’
      • ‘Isn't it true that all the relevant statutory authorities have given the projects the thumbs up?’
      • ‘Many watching the march demonstrated their approval by giving a thumbs up or by clapping.’
      • ‘They seemed to approve of my subject because I received some thumbs up signals.’
      • ‘It would be a pity that this event would not be celebrated and the thumbs up sign has already given it the green light.’
      rejection, refusal, veto, no, negation, rebuff, disapproval, turning down, turndown, non-acceptance, declining, dismissal, spurning, cold shoulder, cold-shouldering, snub, snubbing
      approval, seal of approval, approbation, endorsement, welcome, encouragement
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  • under someone's thumb

    • Completely under someone's influence or control.

      • ‘Tenali Rama's interpretation: You must not become a shrew but must be so to some extent in order to keep your husband under your thumb.’
      • ‘This is the beginning of the end for the British Army and their fight to keep the colonies under King George 's thumb.’
      • ‘Give it a couple of weeks, and The Man will soon stop asking you to do anything, and soon enough you'll have him under your thumb.’
      • ‘He was doing all those hurtful things people do when they think they have you under their thumb.’
      • ‘‘You must be really satisfied at how you managed to hook me under your thumb all these years,’ he went on relentlessly.’
      • ‘God is the creation of a few powerful people to keep the gullible masses under their thumb.’
      • ‘Keeping a ship with 460 people on board under Howard 's thumb for 6 days has cost $20 million, as much as it would have cost to keep these boat people in detention for 434 days.’
      • ‘The solution to conflicts such as this is obviously not to put the police back under the military 's thumb.’
      • ‘But Beck made little progress: advocates had the City Council under their thumb.’
      • ‘The only other site capable of producing deuterium at the time was in Vemork, Norway, which had been under Hitler 's thumb since 1940.’


Old English thūma, of West Germanic origin; related to Dutch duim and German Daumen, from an Indo-European root shared by Latin tumere ‘to swell’. The verb dates from the late 16th century, first in the sense ‘play (a musical instrument) with the thumbs’.