The thumb is the first digit of the hand. It is also the most important digit as it goes by the Latin name ’digitus primus’. The opposable thumb has helped human species develop more accurate motor skills. It is also thought to have directly led to the development of tools, not just in humans but other primates as well. It is believed that walking (bipedalism) was preceded by the specialized precision gripping hand (equipped with opposable thumb), or in other words walking may have been a by-product of busy hands.

The kind of star status that the thumb enjoys can be seen in the number of proverbs, idioms and sayings that it is a part of-

Rule of thumb

Under one’s thumb

Thumbs up/ down

Thumbing your nose

Having a green thumb

Sticking out like a sore thumb

Twiddling your thumbs

Being all fingers and thumbs

It has also inspired some fairy tales that we’ve all read/heard as kids

Thumbelina, Tom Thumb –both stories had protagonists the size of a thumb

Wondering why this discourse on the Thumb? Well, a few days back I was rudely made aware of the importance of this digit. Last Saturday I woke up with a mild pain in my thumb. Dismissed it as just a morning thing thinking I might’ve somehow managed to twist it in my sleep. The pain however did not relent during the day and I loathe swallowing pills( and when I absolutely have to, I keep staring at it for minutes hoping my gaze will wither it and make it small) so I continued to ignore it. Was meeting friends in the afternoon and when with friends all pain is forgotten (the power of friendship). It was only when I was returning home with my husband, that the pain returned with a vengeance. The thumb was showing signs of puffing up with indignation for having been ignored for so long and turned red with anger and wouldn’t budge even with all the cajoling and the massages I administered to pacify it. Once home the task of cooking dinner suddenly seemed herculean as handling the knife or holding even a glass of water became painful. I was all ‘fingers and thumbs’ and I was now sure that I had somehow fractured my thumb and decided to make the most of all the fuss I could get coming my way. I had no option but to swallow the bitter pill and apply some cold compresses. The Thumb finally yielded to all the TLC, attention and fussing over. The pain subsided but not before it had strongly made a point about its importance.

So now I’m back to ‘twiddling my thumbs’. By the way, the story behind the proverb ‘Rule of Thumb’ is as interesting as it is amusing. Allegedly, in 1782 a British judge Sir Francis Buller ruled that a man may legally beat his wife, provided he used a stick no thicker than his thumb.

I would have given an absolute ‘thumbs down’ to this ruling as it put the woman under her husband’s thumb and would have ‘thumbed my nose’ at the judge. So there…


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