Dictionary.com

Yes, a woman grew back her pinkie, but think ― why is it called a “pinkie?”

Why is the most diminutive digit on your hand not called a finger? Do the ring, index, and middle have their own, obscure names? Let us give you, ahem, a hand with these questions.

The amazing story of Deepa Kulkarni of California sparked our curiosity about hands and fingers. She lost the tip of her pinkie in a grotesque accident. Through tenacity and new medical technology, she actually regenerated the severed digit in seven weeks.

(What’s the name of the white, half-moon-shaped part of your fingernail? Here’s the answer.)

Inspired, we looked at our hand and the English words for it. The first dilemma; whether the thumb is one of the five digits on our hand. There is no definitive answer. But one of the terms for finger in Indo-European is penkwe, which also means “fiveness.”

Pinkie may be a trace of this ancient word for finger. We know for certain that the Scots and the Dutch used “pinkie” going back to 1500 or so, and that the Dutch word relates to “smallness.”

(If you feel like making a lexical detour, the metacarpophalangeal joint is a super-long word for this common part of your hand.)

The Latin name for pinkie also emphasizes the size issue ― the digitus minimus, or “smallest finger.” Latin also sticks to vanilla names for the other three fingers: basically “fingers one, two and three.” Thumb goes all the way back to the ancient root tum-, “to swell,” or “stout.”

Many of the bones in your fingers are known as phalanges, based on the Indo-European root for “beam.” And why is the finger next to the pinkie the ring finger? Apparently Romans believed that a vein in the left ring finger flows directly to the heart, an apt symbol for matrimonial affection.

In closing, let us point you towards an amazing term: “The condition of having six fingers or toes on a hand or foot,” hexadactyly.

42 Comments

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    Reply
  2. Eyewitness -  February 5, 2011 - 2:06 pm

    Incidentally, the tradiional position of the wedding ring in french marriage is (for both men and women) on the right hand ring finger, irrespective of the prevalence in France of Roman Catholicism. The proper name for this custom is “morganactic marriage.”

    (Not a joke–right-handed wedding ring wearing in France really is called that.)

    I do not know how or when the split occurred between the custom of morganactic marriage (right handed rings) and Roman cultural belief (left handed rings). It seems more intriguing when one considers that the Roman Empire became the Holy Roman (Catholic) Empire, and therefore one would think the Roman Catholic church would have inherited the Roman social custom unchanged. Yet, in predominantly Roman Catholic France, the traditional location of the wedding ring is indeed on the right hand.

    If anyone has a theory as to why the sides changed, I would be glad to read it.

    Reply
  3. Eyewitness -  February 5, 2011 - 1:40 pm

    I have it on unimpeachable authority that Deepa Kulkarni’s therapy which enabled her to regrow a severed fingertip is that she was placed on a strict diet of salamander eggs for several months. It must be true. I read it on the internet.

    Reply
  4. Curly Hair -  September 28, 2010 - 4:57 pm

    …Or maybe you meant to put a comma after “is” as well. Another example of not checking that you are correct when you write something.

    And I could start being nitpicky and say exactly why that sentence is not necessarily true, anyway… but I don’t have the time or patience, quite frankly.

    (I am sorry if this comes across sounding harsh or bitter; I just get very insulted when people wrongly accuse me of using improper grammar. I love language and grammar.)

    Reply
  5. Curly Hair -  September 28, 2010 - 4:45 pm

    And speaking of proper grammar, Steve:

    “Thus to misspell something wrong is actually, a foolish construction meaning that something was really spelled right.”

    What’s with that comma in the middle of nowhere, huh?

    Reply
  6. Curly Hair -  September 28, 2010 - 4:29 pm

    @Steve:

    [1] The article said that “Romans believed that a vein in the left ring finger flows directly to the heart” – which is why I thought we were talking about veins. But thank you for that insight; if you are right in assuming that the Egyptians and Romans had the same belief, maybe the person who did the research for this article misunderstood something and took the “connection” to mean a veinal one. Or, perhaps, the answer is simply that these are the Romans, not the Egyptians. ;) But if the latter is correct… I’m afraid my question still stands.

    [2] See what Danny said. I guess you can learn something from this – don’t criticize someone until you’re sure you’re right in your criticism. I am fully aware of the laws of grammar, thank you very much.

    Reply
  7. Ambros -  September 24, 2010 - 7:58 am

    Django Reinhart — a great jazz guitarist of the 1930s and ’40s — was missing a finger on his LEFT hand; I think it was (wasn’t?) the pinkie. He developed a personal technique for getting around this handicap.

    Reply
  8. Dave -  September 22, 2010 - 8:48 am

    To Mark V, I don’t know for sure, but the word finger (which English gets from German) might be associated with the German word fangen, which means to catch. Er FINGT den Ball mit seinen FINGERN. (He caught the ball with his fingers.) So, in fact, people do fing with their fingers.

    Reply
  9. Danny -  September 22, 2010 - 6:40 am

    Steve: “Def Leppard” is a misspelling of “Deaf Leopard.” So when you name the band, you misspell something. But if you do it incorrectly, you misspell it wrong.

    Reply
  10. andrew -  September 22, 2010 - 1:31 am

    in russian all your digits – on your hands are fingers and the wedding ring is worn on the right hand because of the orthodox tradition about “right praising” and the left has some connection with being corrupt impure dishonest.

    however in russian on your feet you don’t have toes, you have another set of fingers… all of them…. so that’s 18 altogether. Thumb is not a finger but is most certainly a digit..

    Reply
  11. Steve -  September 21, 2010 - 10:01 pm

    Curly Hair [1] Many years ago Readers’ Digest published an article on Ancient Egyptian culture, beliefs etc. I recall that the author explained that they believed that the ring finger of the left hand was spiritually connected to the heart. Thus the wedding ring or band was a symbolical connection to one’s heart.

    No mention whatever of veins, blood flow or left hand versus right hand ring fingers. Of course, we know that ancient Egypt predated ancient Roman civilization.

    [2] I feel that a better [ worse actually ] example of a very badly written English sentence is your ” You misspelled it wrong.”

    One either misspells something OR spells it wrong. Thus to misspell something wrong is actually, a foolish construction meaning that something was really spelled right.

    Remember when your Grade Eight teacher taught you that a double negative was a NO-NO, grammatically, since it foolishly implies the opposite — a positive. Same principle holds true.

    Reply
  12. carl -  September 21, 2010 - 7:11 pm

    the thumb is a digit but not a finger the thumb is a thumb. u may hav 10 digits but u only hav 8 fingers

    Reply
  13. Curly Hair -  September 21, 2010 - 12:53 pm

    Amen to that, Saf.

    Reply
  14. Saf -  September 17, 2010 - 11:02 am

    “As that sentence stands, it is one of the worst constructed sentences on the internet.”

    Good example of irony.

    Reply
  15. neil5280 -  September 15, 2010 - 10:26 am

    I can’t believe you deleted my post because I criticized the construction of the sentence, “The first dilemma; whether the thumb is one of the five digits on our hand.”

    Just fix the sentence already. Like your first commenter says, of course it’s one of the five digits on our hand. Without the thumb, there would only be 4 digits on the hand. What you really meant to say is, “The first dilemma; whether the thumb is a finger.”

    As that sentence stands, it is one of the worst constructed sentences on the internet.

    I can’t wait to return and see if you’ve deleted this post as well.

    Reply
  16. Guest -  September 13, 2010 - 8:08 am

    “It’s probably the only intelegant thing on Facebook.”
    Nice.

    Reply
  17. AMY-LOU -  September 13, 2010 - 5:42 am

    I’m sorry this blog is stupid! It kinda bored me to death and i didn’t really care because you can do all things through Christ and so what if they grew there finger back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  18. Curly Hair -  September 11, 2010 - 7:22 pm

    “Apparently Romans believed that a vein in the left ring finger flows directly to the heart, an apt symbol for matrimonial affection.”

    I don’t get it. Don’t all veins flow directly to the heart? I mean, obviously they flow to the heart, because that’s what veins are; as for whether they’re direct or not, well, how exactly can one be indirect?

    @Kyle Padgett: It’s Def Leppard, not Def Leapord. You misspelled it wrong. :D

    Reply
  19. Baratus114 -  September 11, 2010 - 1:32 pm

    If you are driving down the road in your four doored canoe, and the wheels fall off, how many pancakes does it take to shingle a doghouse?

    The answer is “false” because a balloon is this mm—-(‘,’)—-mm color.

    Reply
  20. Don Paco -  September 11, 2010 - 10:25 am

    For Paul, as to why (some) women use the left ring finger and (some) men use the right ring finger when wearing a wedding ring:
    The right hand implies domination; the left hand implies submission.

    Reply
  21. jack -  September 11, 2010 - 6:28 am

    Men don’t wear their wedding rings on their right hand . Where did you come up with that?

    Reply
  22. Kyle Padgett -  September 11, 2010 - 4:53 am

    As always dictionary.com keeps me entertained via facebook. It’s probably the only intelegant thing on Facebook. I am gonna call some people out though for being funny or for being an @ss.
    1.RY-WTF that’s the funniest joke without a punchline I’ve ever heard thanks for lowering my comic I.Q.
    2.Randy-I’ve been playing the guitar for quite some time too, but what in the world compelled you to post that. Just seems strange.
    3.Skillet Fan-Def Leapord rocks.
    4.Chad-No I don’t see the irony in that. Learn the meaning of irony please.
    5.Alec-Get a life and let people talk about what they want. It’s called conversation. So stop trying to find ways to be a jerk and go jump off a building. Thank you and good night.

    Reply
  23. Ray -  September 11, 2010 - 12:42 am

    The Carlin said it best. English is a funny language.
    ‘It’s ok to say that you pricked your finger but improper to say that you fingered your prick.’

    Reply
  24. Feyn -  September 11, 2010 - 12:40 am

    In Germany the pinky is called “Kleiner Finger” which translates to “small finger”.
    The thumb, which is called “Daumen” is in German definetly counted as a finger, one has five fingers on one hand, not four plus a thumb.

    Reply
  25. Karl Callwood -  September 10, 2010 - 11:45 pm

    I am not certain why growing back a fingertip is news. More than once I, and other co-workers, have sliced off fingertips while hand cutting line film. They always grow back and without medical intervention. Now, growing back the bone, if severed, is another story. Flesh on the hands, if you will notice, generally heals without even a scar. Note that sand papering off your fingerprints does not last for long.

    Reply
  26. BillyBob -  September 10, 2010 - 9:56 pm

    Q: How many spiders does it take to pick the seeds out of a dill pickle?
    A: 9, because the plane was made of feathers. That should help ??

    Reply
  27. Ry -  September 10, 2010 - 6:54 pm

    Q: How many spiders does it take to pick the seeds out of a dill pickle?
    A: 9, because the plane was made of feathers. That should help ??

    Reply
  28. Paul -  September 10, 2010 - 6:05 pm

    Is there also an explanation why women use left ring finger and men uses the right finger when wearing wedding ring?

    Reply
  29. weeble -  September 10, 2010 - 5:59 pm

    I was just doing my homework until my mind strayed of to this,but actully it was cool,so thanks.

    Reply
  30. Mike Hetzler -  September 10, 2010 - 4:59 pm

    I’d like to give this article the “thumbs” up! It was interesting…

    Reply
  31. carina -  September 10, 2010 - 4:38 pm

    Well, I just enjoyed reading this. I found it amazing and very informative.
    Thanks.

    Reply
  32. Randy -  September 10, 2010 - 4:30 pm

    As a guitarist for more than 20 years, I can say that although I’m right handed, I’d sacrifice my right hand before the left, because I could still play fairly well, with a “I can’t think of the word for it now”, but let me call it a man made right hand, but the left hand does all, well not all, but most of the work when you are playing the guitar.

    However, let me pray that, this situation never happens to me, because I don’t know how I’d make a living.
    Randy

    Reply
  33. #1 Skillet fan -  September 10, 2010 - 4:29 pm

    I’m a drummer so I don’t really care what finger is called the first finger lol

    Reply
  34. Kelsey -  September 10, 2010 - 4:22 pm

    Deepa Kulkarni’s story is not that amazing my little sister grew back part of her pinkie toe after cutting it off in Lake Delton in the Wisconsin Dells.

    Reply
  35. Chad -  September 10, 2010 - 3:35 pm

    “Do the ring, index, and middle have their own, obscure names?”

    Does anyone else see the irony in this sentence?

    Reply
  36. suberbian of Tokyo -  September 10, 2010 - 3:25 pm

    In my cutlural background, stickin up a little finger in a cheap gossip conversation means a man has a lover and a thumb for a woman.

    When you see a man with a thumb chopped out, you would imagine he is or was a Yakuza, meaning a gangster, who bumbled about his job, that cost him a thumb for making it up.

    When I was driving around in L.A for sightseeing, I was going slow and sometimes got a middle finger sticking up in the back mirror!

    A thumb’s up for a man who keeps his promise and a thumb’s chopped who pranks on me!!!

    Reply
  37. alec -  September 10, 2010 - 3:20 pm

    would u people stop worrying about fingers and get on with ur life get a job girl friend something jeez

    Reply
  38. Mark V -  September 10, 2010 - 3:10 pm

    I was hoping this would finally answer the question as to why they call them fingers, even though we never fing with them.

    Reply
  39. BONES | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  September 10, 2010 - 2:20 pm

    [...] “How bout a hand?” — She regenerated her pinkie? — A snake will grow a new tail. — There’s so much we’ll never understand — such as how long will last a twinkie? — Is it cuticle or phalanges humor taking up the space — Sticks and stones for adultery? — Lunula seems out of place.–>>Rupert L.T.Rhymes [...]

    Reply
  40. Norm M. -  September 10, 2010 - 1:56 pm

    If you’re a guitarist (or violinist, etc.) the index finger is the first finger. On the other hand (pardon the pun), for a pianist the thumb is the first finger. But all five are still digits, of course.

    Reply
  41. Alexis -  September 10, 2010 - 1:44 pm

    I enjoyed reading this. I was actually asking my self just the other day why it is that when one is married one places the finger on the “ring” finger? I thought to myself, any finger would suffice shouldn’t it as long as its displayed. This answered my question. Thanks.

    Reply
  42. Cyberquill -  September 10, 2010 - 1:32 pm

    Of course the thumb is one of the five digits on our hand. If it weren’t, there wouldn’t be five digits on our hand.

    Reply

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