more media mis-info: "thumbs up"

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Sat May 24 02:51:23 UTC 2008

Eggs Actly. "_Pollice verso_ is the Latin term for _the_ gesture,
meaning 'with a turned thumb.'"

It was the Latin term for _a_ gesture made with the thumb. What form
that gesture took is lost to history. Back in the day, it was claimed
that the gesture was turning one thumb *down.* That there was an
opposing Roman gesture of turning two thumbs, or even one thumb, *up*
is, by comparison, a brand-new concept to us old heads. And, even in
those days, the more learned were attempting to debunk the claim that
there was any kind of evidence to suggest in what manner the thumb was
turned. Also, in the lost days of my golden youth, it was held that
the decision was made only by the emperor. The winning gladiator
gladiator stood over his fallen opponent and looked up to the emperor
for a decision. If the thumb gesture was made by the emperor, then the
winner killed his opponent. If not, then the loser may have lived to
fight another day, depending upon the extent of his wounds.


On Fri, May 23, 2008 at 1:58 PM, Jonathan Lighter
<wuxxmupp2000 at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM>
> Subject:      more media mis-info: "thumbs up"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 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:
>  JL
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