Thursday, December 30, 2010

All Thumbs

My learned friend Sharon posted this on her Facebook wall yesterday:
It takes seven seconds for food to pass from mouth to stomach. A human hair can hold three kilograms. The length of a man's penis is three times the length of his thumb. Your femur is as hard as concrete. A woman's heart beats faster than a man's. Women blink twice as much as men. We use three hundred muscles just to keep our balance when we stand. The woman has read this entire text. The man is still looking at his thumb...
Now that we're agreed that this is all Sharon's fault, let's continue.
According to Wikipedia, the thumb is the first digit of the hand. When a person is standing in the medical anatomical position (where the palm is stretched forward), the thumb is the lateral-most digit. The opposable thumb has helped the human species develop more accurate fine motor skills. It is also thought to have directly led to the development of tools...the opposable thumb ensured that important human functions such as writing were possible. The thumb, in conjunction with the other fingers, makes human hands...some of the most dexterous in the world.
We homo sapiens believe that our apposable thumb is as much responsible for our evolution as was our intellectual capacity, but most higher primates' thumbs are opposable to a certain degree. Other species (frogs, lizards, pandas, opossums and some polydactyl cats) developed a similar digit for their own shrewd purposes (as did shrews). 
Like most parts of our anatomy, we can use our thumbs metaphorically. They have become a device to express our feelings and opinions. When everything is going as we planned, or shows some indication of doing so, we hold our thumbs up. If we disagree with someone else's decisions or conclusions, we will turn our thumbs down. We may thumb our noses at convention, or give tradition a thumb in the eye. 
 In Romeo and Juliet, Old Capulet's supporter, Samson, threatens Verona's fragile peace when he bites his thumb in the direction of a group of Monatgue partisans. One of MacBeth's three witches divines the approach of evil by the sensations in hers - "By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes."
If an accurate measurement is not critically important, we may choose to estimate. Sometimes we call this the Rule of Thumb. The origin of the term has been much debated, and was often thought to apply to the thickness of the stick that a husband was allowed to use when reproving his wife. More likely, it refers to the woodworker's estimate that the width of his thumb is roughly the same as an inch, or to the farmer's guess that the length of his thumb is about the right depth to plant his seeds.
When we provide a small picture, or give a brief description, we call that a thumbnail - good luck finding one of those here. If one person in a relationship submits to the will of another without hesitation or thought, we say that he is under the thumb of the other. Our thumbs can be used to deceive or influence others - or ourselves. "Rare is the person who can weigh the faults of others without putting his thumb on the scales" says Byron J. Langenfeld. On the days when our dexterity is limited, and things don't come together as we'd intended, it's because we're all thumbs.
Some of us have used our thumbs to describe our whole influence on the world surrounding us. In his weblog, Standing Room Only, Hugh Elliot writes, "..even if we never meet or ever see each other, we have left our thumbprints in the thick, moist clay of each other's lives." 
It sounds a bit messy, but thumbtimthes relationships can be like that.
* * *
On Christmas Day, Limited Vision passed a couple of milestones. Since I'd begun this blog last October, it had registered fifteen hundred page views, many of which weren't even mine. While I was savouring the taste of that candied conceit, I noticed that it had a new follower, whose name I didn't recognise. After three months of bullying and blackmailing my family and friends into joining our little group, it seems that the blog may have an actual fan.
Welcome - thanks for stopping by. As I hope I've said before, you've all been my best editors and my fairest critics. Please keep your comments coming. If you haven't commented yet (you know who you are), please try - it's lonely out here!
This is probably going to be my last posting of 2010. I'm sure that all of us had hoped for something of more pith and importance; more meat and merit to finish the year... but this is what I have today.
Have a wonderful New Year - I hope that 2011 will be your best year ever, and that they just get better after that.  
Happy New Year from the Tall Lady, the Lion Pride and me.


  1. Happy New Year and keep writing...all the best.

  2. Some say it's the same thing as an opposable thumb. I think "opposable" refers to the digit's position and "apposable" tells us how it works. The point is questionable, though. Most webpages' onboard dictionaries, including the one Blogspot uses, don't even recognise "apposable" as a real word.

  3. Gives a whole new perspective on "I'm all thumbs"
    411 Dave

  4. Well, those of you asking about the definition of 'apposable', here's what the dictionary tells me, " Capable of being apposed, or applied one to another, as the thumb to the fingers of the hand; able to be brought into direct spatial opposition.".

    Personally, I think it's to do with downloading games and sending text messages on your iPhone, but that's just my humble opinion...