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[thuhmz-uhp] /ˈθʌmzˈʌp/
noun, Informal.
an act, instance, or gesture of assent, approval, or the like.
Origin of thumbs-up


[thuhm] /θʌm/
the short, thick, inner digit of the human hand, next to the forefinger.
the corresponding digit in other animals; pollex.
the part of a glove or mitten for containing this digit.
Architecture. an ovolo or echinus molding.
verb (used with object)
to soil or wear with the thumbs in handling, as the pages of a book.
to glance through (the pages of a book, leaflet, etc.) quickly.
to play (a guitar or other instrument) with or as with the thumbs.
(of a hitchhiker) to solicit or get (a ride) by pointing the thumb in the desired direction of travel.
all thumbs, awkward; clumsy; bungling:
The visitor almost knocked over a vase and seemed to be all thumbs.
thumb one's nose,
  1. to put one's thumb to one's nose and extend the fingers as a crudely defiant or contemptuous gesture.
  2. to express defiance or contempt; dismiss or reject contemptuously.
thumbs down, a gesture or expression of dissent or disapproval:
We turned thumbs down to that suggestion.
thumbs up, a gesture or expression of assent or approval.
under one's thumb, under the power or influence of; subordinate to.
Also, under the thumb of.
before 900; Middle English; Old English thūma; cognate with Dutch duim, Old Saxon, Old High German dūmo (German Daumen), Old Norse thumall; akin to Latin tumēre to swell (tumor)
Related forms
thumbless, adjective
thumblike, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2016.
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British Dictionary definitions for thumbs up


the first and usually shortest and thickest of the digits of the hand, composed of two short bones Technical name pollex, related adjective pollical
the corresponding digit in other vertebrates
the part of a glove shaped to fit the thumb
(architect) another name for ovolo
all thumbs, clumsy
thumbs down, an indication of refusal, disapproval, or negation: he gave the thumbs down on our proposal
thumbs up, an indication of encouragement, approval, or acceptance
under someone's thumb, at someone's mercy or command
(transitive) to touch, mark, or move with the thumb
to attempt to obtain (a lift or ride) by signalling with the thumb
when intr, often foll by through. to flip the pages of (a book, magazine, etc) perfunctorily in order to glance at the contents
thumb one's nose at, to deride or mock, esp by placing the thumb on the nose with fingers extended
Derived Forms
thumbless, adjective
thumblike, adjective
Word Origin
Old English thūma; related to Old Saxon thūma, Old High German thūmo, Old Norse thumall thumb of a glove, Latin tumēre to swell
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for thumbs up



Old English þuma, from West Germanic *thumon- (cf. Old Frisian thuma, Old Saxon, Old High German thumo, German Daumen, Dutch duim "thumb," Old Norse þumall "thumb of a glove"), literally "the stout or thick (finger)," from PIE *tum- "swell" (cf. Latin tumere "to swell," tumidus "swollen;" Avestan tuma "fat;" see thigh). For spelling with -b (attested from late 13c.), see limb.

To be under (someone's) thumb "be totally controlled by that person" is recorded from 1580s. Thumbs up (1887) and thumbs down (1906) were said to be from expressions of approval or the opposite in ancient amphitheaters, especially gladiator shows, where the gesture decided whether a defeated combatant was spared or slain. But the Roman gesture was merely one of hiding the thumb in the hand or extending it. Perhaps the modern gesture is from the usual coachmen's way of greeting while the hands are occupied with the reins.


"to go through" (especially of printed material), 1930, from thumb (n.), though the related sense of "soil or wear by handling" dates from 1640s. Meaning "to hitchhike" is 1939; originally the thumb pointed in the direction one wished to travel. Related: Thumbed; thumbing. To thumb (one's) nose as an expression of derision is recorded from 1903.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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thumbs up in Medicine

thumb (thŭm)
The short thick digit of the human hand, next to the index finger and opposable to each of the other four digits.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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thumbs up in Culture
thumbs up (down)

Expressions of approval and disapproval respectively: “The two critics disagreed about the movie; one gave it thumbs up, the other thumbs down.” In the gladiatorial contests of ancient Rome, a thumbs-up gesture from the crowd meant that the loser would live; thumbs down meant death.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Slang definitions & phrases for thumbs up

thumbs down

noun phrase

A negative response; a


: It's thumbs down on his promotion this year

[1906+; fr the pollice verso gesture of the audience at a Roman gladiatorial show, indicating that a defeated gladiator was to be killed rather than spared]

throw the bull

verb phrase

SHOOT THE BULL throw together

Related Terms

knock together

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with thumbs up

thumbs up

An expression of approval or hopefulness, as in The town said thumbs up on building the elderly housing project. The antonym thumbs down indicates disapproval or rejection, as in Mother gave us thumbs down on serving beer at our party. Alluding to crowd signals used in Roman amphitheaters, these idioms were first recorded in English about 1600. In ancient times the meaning of the gestures was opposite that of today. Thumbs down indicated approval; thumbs up, rejection. Exactly when the reversal occurred is not known, but the present conventions were established by the early 1900s.
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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