All thumbs and all fingers and thumbs

All thumbs and all fingers and thumbs are two versions of an idiom. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common idiom all thumbs, or all fingers and thumbs, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

The expressions all thumbs and all fingers and thumbs describe someone who is clumsy, awkward, or uncoordinated. Most specifically, all thumbs and all fingers and thumbs describe someone who is not clever with his hands; he cannot do delicate work with his hands and/or drops things easily. The expression all thumbs is by far the more popular iteration of this idiom; all fingers and thumbs is older and is primarily a British phrase. The term is first found in John Heywood’s A Dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the Prouerbes in the Englishe tongue, published in 1546. “When he should get aught, each finger is a thumb.”


As I tried to get another arrow nocked, I was all thumbs. (Field and Stream Magazine)

You might be “all thumbs” when it comes to wrapping gifts, but Angela Maskey is a certified gift-wrapping guru. (Augusta Chronicle)

Kim Jong-un all fingers and thumbs in bid for Instagram diplomacy (The Guardian)

The 42-year-old later retweeted footage of himself disembarking – and it looked like he was all fingers and thumbs as a couple of spelling blunders found their way into his tweet. (Daily Star)

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