Fingers and Fingering

By Maeve Maddox

Because of their daily familiarity, body parts contribute to the language far beyond their literal uses. Finger is an especially rich source of expressions.

There are the literal uses: ring finger, index finger, middle finger, little finger, and forefinger.

The earliest use of finger as a verb (1450) was with the meaning “to point.” The sense “to touch with the fingers” dates from 1590.

Because of the long, thin shape of a finger, the word is used for anything long and thin:

The campground lies nestled on a finger of land between the banks of the Alabama River and Isaac Creek.

Kids will love this homemade version of fish fingers. (small elongated breaded fillets of fish).

Ladyfingers, also called sponge fingers are low density, dry, egg-based and sweet sponge biscuits roughly shaped like a large finger.

Idioms with finger:

to lay a finger on someone (to harm)
He was crying, but I never laid a finger on him.

to finger (to incriminate)
When these suspects were picked up they fingered other accomplices.

to lift a finger (to make an effort to help)
Melissa never lifts a finger around the house unless I ask her.

to raise a finger against (to offer violence against)
Kostia Petrovitch never raised a finger against his children. 

to cross one’s fingers (to trust to luck)
As for Theresa, her way was to cross her fingers and fervently pray.

to burn one’s fingers (to suffer financial losses)
The young Benjamin Disraeli burned his fingers so badly on Mexican and South American mining shares in 1824-5 that his financial affairs remained encumbered for almost the rest of his life.

to point an accusing finger (to point with the forefinger as a gesture of blame)
Randy Meadows pointed an accusing finger at the defendant and offered damning evidence against him.

to make a slip of the finger (to make an unintentional movement of the finger)
In the world of internet banking millions of electronic payments are made every day, but make one slip of the finger and you could end up sending a payment to the wrong account.

to put one’s finger on a problem (to identify the crux of a matter)
Voltaire put his finger on the problem when he said, “The secret to being a bore is to tell everything.” 

a finger of Scotch or other liquid (a unit of measurement approximately the width of an adult finger)
Marcus rose and went to the sideboard, pouring three healthy fingers of scotch into two glasses.

a wag of the finger (a gesture or statement of reprimand)
Literally, the “finger wag” is the action of reprimanding or warning someone by moving the forefinger from side to side.

Basketball player Dikembe Mutombo was noted for wagging his finger as a warning to opponents that they would not score against him.

In a segment called “Tip of the Hat and Wag of the Finger,” comedian Stephen Colbert offered praise and censure on topics in the news.

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5 Responses to “Fingers and Fingering”

  • venqax

    You mean fish fingers aren’t…

  • Mike Rose

    I do believe at least one definition has been left out.

  • Roberta B.

    @Mike Rose, I was going to say the same thing – the one used to describe a gesture representing a very vulgar invective. (You knew someone was going to add this one!)

  • Maeve

    Mike and Roberta B,
    I was confident that my readers would take care of that one.

  • Anne-Marie

    One that I am fond of using is the finger of death (using the forefinger on the delete key to remove annoying/rude emails).

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