The Second Witch in Macbeth says the lines:-
|“By the pricking of my thumbs,|
|Something wicked this way comes.”|
Agatha Christie went on to use the first half of the quote as the title for a Miss Marple murder story.
Murder, and wickedness!
Of course, in popular telling, the thumbs up or down choice of the crowd and the Emperor told the fate of a defeated gladiator.
Oddly it seems that the identification of the “thumbs up” with favour and approval, and “thumbs down” with disapproval, is a mis-telling of the Roman traditions, attributable to a 19th Century painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme.
The writer Juvenal and the Christian poet Prudentius relate that spectators demanded the deathblow in gladiatorial contests by “turning the thumb.” In Juvenal, the phrase is “verso pollice”; in Prudentius, who rails against the carnage in the arena, “converso pollice”. However neither indicates which way the thumb required to turn.
There is later reference to the “hostile thumb” or “infesto pollice”. This has been taken as a reference to “thumbs down” but again this is not clear. This still does not tell us in which way the thumb turns.
The definition of pollex in Lewis and Short (A Latin Dictionary, 1880) states: “To close down the thumb (premere) was a sign of approbation; to extend it (vertere, convertere; pollex infestus) a sign of disapprobation.”
So, by the 1880’s we had arrived at the present position regarding thumbs up and down, in the Western English speaking world anyway. It appears that the thumbs up sign can be dreadfully insulting elsewhere in the world.
Even here the jerking of the hand showing the thumbs up sign backwards is a sign of ejection.
The internet has seen the need, or desire, to allow people to comment and mark ap0proval or disapproval of products, services, statements and in fact anything else that can be remarked upon.
WordPress, which hosts this blog, provides a useful wee facility, allowing readers to “voice” approval or otherwise with a comment by means of a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”.
I started using it having it seen used usefully, I thought, on RTC. Especially as the volume of comments increased, real life meant that it was no longer easy to read each and every comment on a piece. RTC started the “thumbs” process, amongst other reasons, to help people skimming through the blog.
As well as spotting weel-kent posters’ names, it allowed readers to note comments with lots of positives, lots of negatives and indeed lots of thumbs either way. Some people are keen to read the popular comments whilst others home in on the unpopular.
It is the same for me. Even though I am the only person (other than Mr Lawwell and the entire staff of Harper MacLeod, Solicitors :-) ) with access to the WordPress “dashboard” I can’t “thumb” a piece more than once without logging in from another computer. Life, frankly, is too short for that!
Why these thumb related musings?
A poster, Ingram, earlier this week posted a vile calumny on the site, in the vein of murder and wickedness mentioned at the head of the piece. He accused “someone” (presumably me) of manipulating the system to provide his comments with an “instant” 30 thumbs down. He considered that this was unfair and impliedly in some way a denial of his right to free speech.
I am happy to reassure Ingram that his fears are unfounded.
Neither I, nor anyone else, has a master “lots of thumbs down” button. WordPress do not provide one.
Secondly, as mentioned above, sometimes more attention is paid to comments with lots of negative feedback, even if the reader is interested only in seeing why such an accumulation of negativity was given.
Thirdly, as I have said, it is entirely unscientific. Whilst a comment having 50 or more thumbs up might be seen as having been popular, it is still a small sample size. Most people do not offer thumbs up or down.
Fourthly, frankly who cares!
And on that note I will leave the issue behind, with only two suggestions.
Number One – do not get agitated about thumb numbers – there are infinitely more important things to fret about in the world.
Number Two – as I said to a commenter last night – whilst this is an “open forum” to a degree, it is my forum. In the same way that people would not generally wander into someone’s house, insult their host, and then expect to be offered tea, sandwiches and a cherry bakewell, do not be surprised if commenters on here who act in a similar way find all their comments held for moderation.
I have never yet blocked any commenter although there are a significant number of comments which I have blocked, usually being extremely unpleasant personal abuse directed at me and usually emanating from Rangers supporters people who post as if they were Rangers supporters.
Number Two also applies to people who offer comments relating to the recent Sandusky scandal at Penn State University. There is no place for discussion of those issues as part of a “whataboutery” regarding tax and player registration issues. I repeat my offer, which no one has yet taken me up on – if you want to write a sensible and reasoned piece about that, or indeed any issue relating to what this blog deals with, feel free to email me as note in the “Guest Writer” section, and I will decide whether to post or not.
Posted by Paul McConville
PS There is not a facility for permitting thumbs up or thumbs down on the blog post, rather than the comments, or at least I have never looked for one.
If there were such an option in place, I suspect I would have disabled it for this piece, as the puns in the title deserve being out to the sword, I fear.