Put Your Finger On Something

Meaning of Idiom ‘Put Your (or one’s) Finger On Something’

To put one’s finger on something is to be able to understand something or know the reason for it; to describe something; to identify something. 1Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth M. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms. Ware: Wordsworth, 1995.,2Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.,3Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

Usage

This expression is usually used in the negative, as in “I can’t put my finger on it.”

Examples Of Use

“There is something familiar about that guy, but I can’t put my finger on it.”

“I know there is something wrong with these financial records,” said the investigator, “but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is.”

“I’ve been trying to fix my car for a week with no success but my cousin, who is a whiz at engines, put his finger on the problem after just a few seconds.”

Origin

Used since the late 1800’s.

The allusion here is to looking through a written document or book, viewing a piece of art, etc. and physically laying one’s finger on some important aspect, fact, etc.

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Sources   [ + ]

1. Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth M. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms. Ware: Wordsworth, 1995.
2. Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.
3. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.