Thumb Enchanted Evening or Thumb Like it Hot?

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”.

A satisfied reader

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 completely unscientific, although the use of cookies, I believe, means that a user can only “thumb” a comment once, without going to a different PC to put up another one.

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?

An unhappy reader

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.

People sometimes get very angry when they sit down at a computer

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.

Some nice cakes, but you are not getting one if you are rude to your host!

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.


Filed under Blogging

28 responses to “Thumb Enchanted Evening or Thumb Like it Hot?

  1. Michael

    Not that it matters, but if you clear your cookies then you can vote many times. You don’t need to login to another computer. Why bother. Life is too short.

  2. Paul McGinty

    In the few weeks since I enocuntered this blog I have thumbed up exactly 1 post – by Ecojon and have thumbed down exactly 0 posts – Goto Internet Optins if using a version of IE and you can delete cookies – However all tracking cookies are deleted daily from my computer by a securitysystem scan anyway. I am only comment when I have something to say and I dont normally use the thumbs up or down icons

    • ecojon

      @Paul McGinty

      Thank you kind Sir 🙂

      I generally find the people who get upset about thumbing-down are the ones who are unable to make a decent fist of an argument for their position because they lack the ability to do so (and that can be for a variety of reasons).

      They are then left with the thumbs-down as their sole refuge and once having entrusted themself to that ‘lifeboat’ they find themselves surrounded by an angry turbulent sea where other posters not only give them the thumbs-down but I suspect give the poster they have acted against a thumbs-up.

      And then there is our little red white and blue brigade who seem to act in concert on the ‘thumbing’ when they swoop on the site like a flock of hungry starling seeking any titbit to devour and feed their truly righteous hunger for total world domination.

      Such are the vagaries of human nature and the way in which real-life drama is played out in cyber lala. As to clearing cookies I must make a confession that it is a regular activity I partake in. Indeed I am so addicted to it that my partner hides them all over the house so I can’t scoff them.

      I much prefer it if people actually advance arguments and state their position but cookies do have their place and to those who get so upset about getting the thumbs-down I would suggest that you brush up your debating techniques, research abilities and presentational skills.

      But most importantly I suggest that you act as a decent human being and actually consider the morality involved in serious issues and also question whether you are accepting the ‘party’ line without any consideration as to why it is the party line and who has created it and for what reasons.

      Debating is a very healthy thing and if honestly carried out it can lead to a much more rounded understanding of where you actually are as a person and where you really stand in relation to the thoughts and ideals of others.

      And when free debate is barred tyranny, of various persuasions, usually follows in the wake of oppression. However, some posters must remember that the right to free speech carries with it resposnisbilities and I hope one poster from the Darkside who descended into the gutter on another posting on here last night really should take stock of his position. You know who you are and you are a disgrace!

      • ecojon

        Right I demand to know who gave me that thumbs-down – and if you go anywhere near that cookie jar I’ll cut your hand off – nah I’ll cut your internet access off 🙂

  3. Very interesting Paul. I have two thumbs-signs-related things to add.

    1. I was once in Tehran at a trade exhibition (I kid you not) and was taking a picture of a load of schoolkids who’d come to visit my publication’s stand (good PR shot and all that), and while herding them into position, and having no farsi to communicate with them, I made liberal use of what I had always assumed the international ‘OK’ sign – the ‘thumbs-up’.

    As I did so an Iranian whom I’d made friends with on the opposite booth ran over and warned me that this sign was very much not the ‘OK’ sign in those parts – rather, it had connotations of doing something unnatural with your mother. (Then again, the same guy introduced me to his Iranian mates as someone who was a “mate of Salmon Rushdie”, thankfully to much hilarity, but in the case of the kids I believed him.)

    2. Someone once told me that the well-known gesture of spreading your fingers out and wiggling them while touching your nose with the thumb is an old (possibly celtic) invitation for the person you are addressing to enjoy a good meal of their own excrement. Anyone know if this is true? My father, who I never heard utter a curse word (apart from when telling one joke when in his 70s), used this gesture quite often, usually at the end of another lost argument with my mother.

    • ecojon

      @Kenny McCaffrey

      Of course there is also the Middle eastern insult of showing the sole iof your shoe to someone or hitting them with your shoe which again is more than just a physical assault but an attack on your morality by the perpetrator.

      I say middle eastern but I don’t know whether this is an Arabe-based insult or whether it might be more widely based and rooted in religious or Islamic teachings or traditions.

  4. Paul, for this post ‘Like’ is as good as a thumbs up for me. The ‘thumbs up’ ‘Thumbs down’ count does not matter. It’s your blog, thus your right to edit or block distasteful comments as you consider necessary.

    The time and effort some people expend to spout their vile thoughts, their personal attacks, their bigotry and their hatred of those who do not share their point of view, is typical of the ignorance of a closed mind and heart. What do they hope to achieve?

    Those people provide the bullets for others to fire. The death of US Ambassador and 3 other Embassy officials in Libya following the posting of the ‘Anti-Islam’ film on the web by extremists, is an classic example of cause and effect, when extremists of whatever colour, creed or persuasion are let loose to say and do whatever they want. It is not they that live with the consequences.

    I’m all for free speech, it’s only words after all, but that freedom carries grave responsibilities that the internet bampots do not consider. The old saying ‘Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me’ is no longer valid. IMO the reverse is now true and if Scotland as a nation continues to ignore the venom being spouted in those sinister comments, it may end up erupting into something more dangerous.

    My apologies if this sounds a little over the top to some, but there are signs in the words, one can see the intent behind the words that a growing number of internet bampots are using.

    More power to your elbow Paul.

    • ecojon


      Wise words and we need all take heed of storm clouds which seem to be forming. Of course there is always the possibility that the parade will be rained on heavily and the circus will leave town or as Chico might phrase it in his native language: Apres moi le deluge 🙂

      But as old cops will tell you the ‘Copper’s friend is a really good deluge’ which keeps ne’er do wells indoors and cools the passion of the frenzied mob.

      This troubled time will pass and after the passing of three false Gawds then surely wiser heads must prevail with whatever is left of the once mighty Rangers who may again have to begin in SFL3 and actually have to run a club on SPL3 assets and much reduced crowds in whatever small stadium they are able to rent.

      If they are ‘lucky’ of course they might be able to rent Ibrox from some ‘mystery investment company’ but all this remains to be seen in the not too distant future.

    • Michael

      I agree with most of what you have written, TheObroni, but I’m not convinced the American Embassy people were killed as revenge for the “Anti-Islam” film. I won’t be surprised if it turns out that it was a pre-meditated, well planned operation, pre-dating the film.

      Overall I think there are some dangerous things being written in some parts of the internet and other media that will result in violence in our country.

    • Well said, TheObroni. Re the anti-muslim film, I don’t see why Obama cannot publicly go to town on the film and its makers (the main man has a very dodgy CV – check out Exposing them as the bigots they so obviously are would go a long way to helping take the heat out of the situation.

      Of course, to help our own little religion-related problem, maybe one of Scotland’s leading politicians could do a great deal of good by publicly going to town on our own fanatics and bigots. Who knows, by doing so, a certain self-styled ‘father of the nation’ could justify his own inflated view of himself AND win a lot of votes for his independence campaign. All it would take would be one of our excellent journalists to ask the right question…

  5. ecojon


    Oh and I forgot to add the reason I was actually replying in the first place.

    We must pause and reflect on the death of the Americans in Libya and in particular who was a real friend to the Libyans at a time of hopelessness for so many of them. A fluent Arabic speaker he was an Arabist in the same sense of Lawrence of Arabia and it is little consolation that many many Libyans will genuinely mourn his death.

    It certainly seems likely that his murder lies at the cave of Al Quaeda and the sorry incident serves as a warning of the dark road that intolerance and hatred towards others with different views, inevitably leads.

  6. Dhougal

    I tend to comment on the blog rather than vote .Another great one Paul ………and Ecojon ,although Starlings/world domination ?…thats plenty ! hehe .Perhaps the thumbs are easier for the undead ……as stringing a sentence together without threatening behaviour or swearing seems impossible!!!!!

  7. Por Cierto

    Yes stick to the “Thumbs” as “Fingers” generally offend por cierto. :))

  8. Some people who crave the ‘thumbs-up’ sign usually have their own thumb too far stuck up their own proverbial and are too blinkered to even consider that they may be barking up the wrong tree chasing a pig in a poke as it were so to speak.

  9. I always give “thumbs down” to discussions about “thumbs down” 🙂

  10. ecojon


    A very balanced viewpoint IMHO 🙂

  11. mick

    its been some week with the thumps down and all the other deluded drivil thats been popping up on the debates ,lets not get blinded and side tracked and continue to focus on the goal the truth for rfc fans and the best deal for creditors and small share holders who feel robbed

  12. Apologies for slightly veering off track here, but I thought some of you would be interested in the following, on the subject of free speech, which a good friend of mine in London – a 50-something American – just posted on facebook. I thought it might have some resonance as regards the attitudes behind certain comments we have all read…

    “About a million years ago in San Diego I had a US history teacher who used to always say: “I might not agree with what you have to say but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
    You know what, my defending days are over. I’m sick of moronic, ego-craving southern preachers who espouse hatred. I’m tired of short-sighted idiots who put inflammatory lies on YouTube and then claim complete innocence when US officials and marines are killed. I shake my head in sadness at friends – some former – who have allowed the lies generated by fools such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News to turn their formerly intelligent brains into mush, now only capable of parroting back sound bites.
    If this is what Freedom of Speech is all about, then please, take it back. Only return it when we actually deserve the honor.”

  13. Cassandra

    your American friend in London was quoting Voltaire,and I have always tried
    to abide by his teaching. Lately I am beginning to believe we are both wrong.

  14. mick

    @ken mcC thats the u s for you in our nation scotland its only really when you mention football the msm become deluded and 1 sided the whole world of media has been taken over by politicians trying to get there view across also they crave big aduiancies so they dont tell the truth throw out the world for balanced views most people in most countrys use the net for it as you know without the net the sevco drama would have been swept under the carpet its sad but true telly news and print has been outed as bollocks and the industry is left looking like mackrils so its up to every1 online to creat there on version just like tcn most people want change its just globle monopoly makes it impossible 70% of tv and print is crap how do we get ride of the 70% and make the 30 % 100% thats what we have to focus on so our future media viewers feel more enlightened by the programmes fines for tell lies via watchdogs 1 possible answer

  15. If there is a Thumb thing that I might find
    Look around corners
    Try to find peace of mind I say
    Where would you go if you were me ?
    Try to keep a straight course not easy!
    Somebody mental looking at me
    A certain reaction we find
    What should it try to be I mean
    If there are many
    Meaning the same?
    Be specific just a game !


  16. duggie73

    Maybe it’s my eyesight, but that version of the pic isn’t of high enough resolution to make out any thumbs at all.
    Presumably the Romans didn’t cut their thumbs off and chuck them up in the air or down on the ground, but you never know with sports fans.
    For some reason I had it in my head that the thumbs down we use now was invented by Hollywood for the “Spartacus” film- which even if it is a mis-remembering of an urban myth, I’d be slightly sad to squint and see dispelled.

    On free speech, certainly in the UN declaration of human rights it isn’t meant to be an unqualified right, you have the right to free speech (and for the avoidance of doubt I’m paraphrasing here) as long as you don’t act the c**t about it. For the logic nerds, it’s fuzzy, all the resolutions are meant to be in play continuously and simultaneously; the rights don’t have a pecking order of what comes first.

  17. Spartycus

    Bit unfair to refer to Spartacus as an urban myth.
    The man definitely seems to have existed, or at least there is a good amount of evidence to suggest he did.

    Check out

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s