All Thumbs

Meaning of Idiom ‘All Thumbs’

To be all thumbs means to be physically awkward and clumsy, especially with one’s hands. 1Brenner, Gail Abel. Webster’s New World American Idioms Handbook. Wiley, 2003. 2Spears, Richard A. McGraw-Hill’s American Idioms Dictionary. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2008.


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Usage

“I dropped an expensive vase yesterday and had to pay for it. I’m all thumbs.”

“Pete loves working with his hands. Too bad he’s all thumbs!”

Origin

This idiom, derived from a proverb dating from the 1500’s, alludes to how awkward it would be to have all of one’s fingers be thumbs. A proverb in John Heywood’s 1546 collection is an antecedent:

“When he should get aught, each finger is a thumb.” 3Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

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Sources   [ + ]

1. Brenner, Gail Abel. Webster’s New World American Idioms Handbook. Wiley, 2003.
2. Spears, Richard A. McGraw-Hill’s American Idioms Dictionary. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2008.
3. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.