more media mis-info: "thumbs up"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Fri May 23 17:58:58 UTC 2008

Read this:

  All sounds very reasonable except that

  A: unlike sociologists, classicists are not certain which ancient gladiatorial thumb gesture meant what,

  B: Nobody seems to have established a 1,500-year line of descent between Roman thumb usage and ours (where are all those supposed medieval "thumbs up"?).

  C: As for those WWII pilots, consider this:

  1930 John Brophy & Eric Partridge _Songs and Slang of the British Soldie 1914-1918_ (London: E. Partridge) 170: THUMBS-UP.--An expression denoting intense joy or gratification.....'Thumbs up, lads, there's buckshee rum to-night.' ...'It's thumbs-up in this company now the S.M.'s gone on leave.' Often accompanied by a gesture, both thumbs vertical above clenched fingers. Occasionally used with a sexual meaning."

  Evidently neither Brophy nor Partridge had been familiar with the gesture as pre-war civilians.  (Yeah, yeah, proves nothing about the Romans.)

  There's also a well-known - to some of us, anyway - photo of Jimmie Rodgers (1897-1933)giving the two thumbs up gesture well before WWII:


The American Dialect Society -

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