Under someone’s thumb

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The idiom under someone’s thumb can be confusing. We will examine the definition of the phrase under someone’s thumb, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

To be under someone’s thumb means to be under his control, to be unduly influenced or dominated by someone. To be under someone’s thumb is a negative thing, as it implies that the subject is weak. The idiom conjures an image of someone being squashed under a gigantic thumb, as a bug may be squashed. The idiom to be under someone’s thumb first appeared in the early eighteenth century, though why the thumb is the anatomy that is used in this phrase is unknown.


When Kanan blackmailed Dre (Rotimi) into spying on Ghost and Tommy, he thought he had the street hustler under his thumb, but Dre eventually set Kanan up to be murdered. (The International Business Times)

“But I had let her know I wasn’t going to leave her anything unless she got rid of (her husband) because she was under his thumb.” (The Herald Paladium)

He had lied about illness and injury to keep Graham under his thumb, manipulating her to cook and clean and wait on him, and to feed his drug habit. (The Concord Monitor)

In the Tuesday filing, Mill’s lawyers said Brinkley has kept the “Dreams and Nightmares” rapper under her supervision for almost a decade, at that the last extension of his probation would keep him under her thumb until 2022, when he would be 35 years old. (The New York Daily News)

Want to have more idioms in your arsenal? Check out some others we covered: