Definition of thumb in English:

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Pronunciation: /THəm/


1The short, thick first digit of the human hand, set lower and apart from the other four and opposable to them.
Example sentences
  • The most commonly affected digits are the thumb and index finger.
  • This section passes through the four fingers, the thumb having been seen for the last time in the preceding section.
  • Using both hands, each testicle should be gently rolled between the thumb and index finger to find any lumps or irregular areas.
1.1The corresponding digit of primates or other mammals.
Example sentences
  • The thumb and toe claws have an extra talon, which is unique in bats.
  • The forefeet have 5 digits, but the thumb is reduced in size. The hind feet have five functional digits.
  • Its retractable, switchblade-like claws on its thumbs worked as grappling hooks to bring an animal to the ground, Wroe said.
1.2The part of a glove intended to cover the thumb.
Example sentences
  • Put a few drops of peppermint oil on the thumb patches of your gloves, so you can sniff on the fly.
  • The top of the thumb is covered with nose friendly fabric so you can swipe away those tickles without rasping your shnoz.
  • The thumb part of the glove should fold down underneath the fingers and point down.


[with object]
1Press, move, or touch (something) with one’s thumb: as soon as she thumbed the button, the door slid open
More example sentences
  • The intercom beeped on a console near the galley and Merlin moved to thumb the control.
  • However, at 127 minutes and with a dialogue-heavy middle, some more impatient folk may be thumbing the scan forward button.
  • Nakamura fished a cell phone from his pants pocket, and the device chirped as he thumbed the two-way communication button.
1.1Turn 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
More example sentences
  • Anyway, I am thumbing through the friendster pages via a search for ‘Interests: Blading’ in hope of finding some blading kakis.
  • But who can deny perusing the headlines, even thumbing through the pages, of the occasional supermarket tabloid while waiting to ring up our groceries?
  • After thumbing through a few pages, I was hooked immediately.
leaf, flick, flip, riffle, skim, browse, look
1.2 (usually be thumbed) Wear or soil (a book’s pages) by repeated handling: his dictionaries were thumbed and ink-stained
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In our own kids' bookshelves, they're the most battered, thumbed and falling-apart books, so often have they been read.
soil, mark, make dog-eared
1.3Request 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
More example sentences
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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.
informal hitch, hitch/thumb a ride/lift



be all thumbs

informal Be clumsy or awkward in one’s actions: I’m all thumbs when it comes to making bows
More example sentences
  • I am not just all thumbs, more all toes.
  • You are all thumbs in the kitchen.
  • "He's all thumbs, Amelia."

thumb one's nose at

informal Show disdain or contempt for.
Example sentences
  • He had the women, he had the gadgets and he was thumbing his nose at what was considered politically correct at the time.
  • Even more significantly, in having married a black woman, Becker seemed to be thumbing his nose at deeply ingrained Aryan idealism.
  • Yet instead of pursuing a bi-partisan agenda, he has thumbed his nose at over half of the American population.

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
With reference to the signal of approval or disapproval, used by spectators at a Roman amphitheater; the sense has been reversed, as the Romans used 'thumbs down' to signify that a beaten gladiator had performed well and should be spared, and 'thumbs up' to call for his death
More example sentences
  • Many watching the march demonstrated their approval by giving a thumbs up or by clapping.
  • It would be a pity that this event would not be celebrated and the thumbs up sign has already given it the green light.
  • I made my challenge and he accepted it with his version of a thumbs up.
rejection, refusal, veto, no, negation, rebuff
informal red light
approval, seal of approval, endorsement;
informal go-ahead, OK, A-OK, green light, say-so

under someone's thumb

Completely under someone’s influence or control.
Example sentences
  • ‘You must be really satisfied at how you managed to hook me under your thumb all these years,’ he went on relentlessly.
  • 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.
  • 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.



Pronunciation: /ˈTHəmləs/
Example sentences
  • Pretty soon the clouds lifted and there in front of me were the peaks, soaring like a giant thumbless hand into the clouds.
  • He was the one who talked filth to Laura Dern in Wild At Heart and more recently played a thumbless Canadian spy in The English Patient.
  • With her fingers inside the thumbless muffs, she couldn't work the snaps, and that was so frustrating!


Old English thūma; 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'.

  • Like finger, thumb is Old English. It shares an ancient root with Latin tumere ‘to swell’, probably because the thumb is a ‘fat’ or ‘swollen’ finger. Thimble is formed from thumb, in the same way that handle is formed from hand. The expression thumbs up, showing satisfaction or approval, and its opposite thumbs down, indicating rejection or failure, hark back to the days of Roman gladiatorial combat. The thumbs were used to signal approval or disapproval by the spectators—despite what many people believe, though, they turned their thumbs down to indicate that a beaten gladiator had performed well and should be spared, and up to call for his death. The reversal of the phrases' meaning first appeared in the early 20th century. In one of the stories from Rudyard Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill (1906), a Roman centurion facing a bleak future says to his friend, ‘We're finished men—thumbs down against both of us.’ In Shakespeare's Macbeth the Second Witch says as she sees Macbeth, ‘By the pricking of my thumbs, / Something wicked this way comes.’ A sensation of pricking in the thumbs was believed to be a foreboding of evil or trouble. See also limb, rule

Words that rhyme with thumb

become, benumb, Brum, bum, chum, crumb, drum, glum, gum, ho-hum, hum, Kara Kum, lum, mum, numb, plum, plumb, Rhum, rhumb, rum, scrum, scum, slum, some, strum, stum, succumb, sum, swum, thrum, tum, yum-yum

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: thumb

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