Thumbs up and thumbs down

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Thumbs up and thumbs down are two terms that are descriptions of common hand gestures. We will look at the meaning of thumbs up and thumbs down, where the gestures and therefore the terms come from, and some examples of their meaning in sentences.

Thumbs up is a term of approval, satisfaction or acceptance. Conversely, thumbs down is a term of disapproval, lack of satisfaction or lack of acceptance. These are compound words, which are two words that when combined take on a different meaning from the original two words. Most people trace the origin of the idea of thumbs up and thumbs down to gladiator contests in Ancient Rome. It is known that the crowd at a gladiator contest would signal whether they believed a gladiator should live or a die with a hand gesture, though what that hand gesture was is uncertain. We do know that the thumbs up and thumbs down gestures, and therefore the terms thumbs up and thumbs down, were popularized during World War II. It probably began with the American Flying Tigers group based in China, who used the signal to signify that they were ready to fly. The story is that they borrowed thumbs up from the Chinese, who had a tradition of using the gesture to mean nice job or number one. Note that there is no apostrophe or hyphen in either term.


Two thumbs up to the organizers, sponsors, speakers, employers and student veterans from across Colorado participating in the highly successful Oct. 24-25 Colorado State University Veterans Symposium. (The Coloradoan)

Commission supports road through tortoise habitat, gives thumbs down to Bears Ears (The Saint George News)