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First published 1974 (SND Vol. IX). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

THOUM, n., v. Also thum, thoom(b), thowme, ¶thiume (Abd. 1882 W. Forsyth Writings 25); and I.Sc. forms toom(b), tum (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928)), tøm-. Sc. forms and usages of Eng. thumb. Adj. thoomless, thumbless (Ags. 1897 Bards Ags. (Reid) 118). See P.L.D. § 38.1. [θum; I.Sc. tum. See T, letter, 9.]

I. n. 1. Sc. forms: m.Sc. 1998 Lillias Forbes Turning a Fresh Eye 18:
Aiblins ye'll try a canny keek oot the pane
Dichtin the gless wi yer thoum
A'thing unco quaet
w.Lth. 2000 Davie Kerr A Puckle Poems 53:
She raxed ower the poke an twixt finger an thoom,
A pu'd oot a sticky yin caa'd a soor ploom.

Sc. phrs.: (1) abune one's thoum, lit. too high for one, beyond one's reach, power or ability; (2) aside one's thoum, in a fumbling, ineffectual or uncertain manner (Bnff. 1972); of the voice: mumblingly, indistinctly; of manual work: in a groping, inept way; (3) by trick of thoum, in a routine manner, automatically (Ork. 1920 J. Firth Reminiscences 33, Ork. 1972); (4) jeweller's thoum, a double-jointed thumb, one that can be bent back unusually far (Edb., Lnk. 1960); (5) my thoomb for, a fig for —! Cf. (16); (6) no to be able to bite one's thoum, to be unsteady through liquor, to be pretty drunk (n.Sc., Ags., Per. 1972); (7) no to be able to see one's thoum, to be unable to see ahead of one, from darkness, etc. (Sh., Cai., Per. 1972); (8) ower one's thoum, beyond the control or discipline of (Per. 1972); (9) the bu'k o' one's thoum, the thickness or capacity of one's thumb, hence a small amount, a mere iota, the least little thing. See Bouk, n.3; (10) the crack o' a thoum, a snap of the fingers, as something short-lived and trivial (Bnff., Abd., Ags., wm.Sc. 1972), in phrs. (i) in the crack o' a cobbler's or hen's thoum, in a trice, immediately; (ii) no to care the crack o' a thoum, not to care a button, to be completely indifferent (Bnff. 1972); (11) thoum and finger (on the same hand), closely connected, inseparable. Obs. in Eng.; (12) to clap, keep, pit, one's thoum on, to keep (a thing) secret or confidential, preserve a discreet silence about (Sc. 1825 Jam., clap, put; Cai. 1905 E.D.D., put; n.Sc., Ags., Per. 1972, pit); (13) to come to one's thoum, to dawn on one, to impress itself on one's consciousness or understanding (Mry., Abd. 1972); (14) to count one's thoums, to sit about idly, “to twiddle one's fingers”; †(15) to coup a thoum, to raise the hands in the attitude of benediction, to ask a blessing (Mry. 1928); (16) to crack one's thoums, to snap one's fingers in pleasurable excitement or in derision (Sh., ne.Sc. 1972). See also Crack, v., 5. (9); (17) to eat one's thoums, to bite one's thumbs with annoyance or chagrin, = Eng. “to chew one's fingers”; (18) to fash one's thoum, in neg. sentences: to pay no heed, not to worry or concern oneself (ne.Sc., Ags., Per. 1972). See also Fash, v., 3.; (19) to keep, put, one's thoum on, see (12); (20) to stir one's thoum, = (18); (21) to thow one's thoum, to warm the hands (Kcd. 1887 Jam.); (22) to turn one's thoum, to bestir oneself, put oneself about, ‘stir a finger' , do a hand's turn (Abd., Ags., Wgt. 1972); (23) to wheep on one's thoum, = (24). See Wheep; (24) to whistle on one's thoum, to take to some trivial or profitless activity by way of consolation after a rebuff or failure, ‘to chase oneself,' freq. as an expression of scorn or derision (Bnff., Abd., Ags. 1972).(1) Per. 1766 A. Nicol Poems 59:
Your match is nane aboon your thumb, Though a' her kin shou'd glour and gloom.
Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 46:
Then Lindy to stand up, began to try, But by your favour, that's aboon his thumb.
Ags. 1869 St Andrews Gazette (19 June):
Yer a 'cute chiel, Jamie, but I think that's aboon yer thumb.
(2) Abd. 1906 Banffshire Jnl. (10 July) 10:
They maistly sang aside their thoom.
Abd.15 1930:
“I some doot ye're workin' aside yer thoom.” Said when one is found working in semi-darkness or fading light.
(5) Lnk. 1920 D. McKenzie Pride o' Raploch 54:
Jock here! Jock there! My thoomb for Jock.
(6) Edb. 1798 D. Crawford Poems 26:
In a while the pipes gaed dumb And Jamie cou'd na bite his thumb.
Abd. 1877 W. Alexander Rural Life 133:
There was nae ane o' us able to bite his ain thoomb.
Ags. 1886 A. Willock Rosetty Ends 177:
They gae staggerin' alang no able to bite their ain thoombs.
Mry. 1927 E. B. Levack Lossiemouth 27:
That drunk he couldna' bite's thoom.
(7) Abd. 1884 D. Grant Lays 31:
Ye cudna see yer thoom for reek.
(8) Per. 1857 J. Stewart Sketches 10:
He's hallacat an' wild, he's gane owre his mither's thoomb.
(9) Dmf. 1925 Trans. Dmf. and Gall. Antiq. Soc. 19:
I wadna gie ye the bu'k o' my thoom.
(10) (i) Kcb. 1885 A. J. Armstrong Friend and Foe 39:
We'll be back for ye in the crack o' a hen's thoom.
Kcb. 1896 A. J. Armstrong Kirkiebrae iii.:
She'll come to in half a dizen cracks o' a cobbler's thoom.
(ii) Sc. 1828 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) II. 97:
I do not care the crack o' my thoom for you.
Kcb. 1885 A. J. Armstrong Friend and Foe 197:
Deil a crack o' their thooms they care.
Abd. 1929 Sc. Readings (Paterson) 81:
A wee, nasty, craulin' beastie, that naebody cares a crack o' the thoomb aboot.
(11) Dmf. 1899 Country Schoolmaster (Wallace) 328:
They and the welfare of the future are thoom and finger on the same han'.
(12) Abd. 1871 W. Alexander Johnny Gibb xvii.:
Fan he didna appear to ken, I keepit my thoom upo' that.
Hdg. 1876 J. Teenan Song 18:
Hoo gracefully he smothers doon The vices o' the titled loon, And on them puts his reverend thoum.
Fif. 1896 D. S. Meldrum Grey Mantle 289:
You'll keep your thoomb on this.
s.Sc. 1897 E. Hamilton Outlaws iv.:
Clap your thumb on a' that I said anent This matter.
Kcb. 1911 G. M. Gordon Auld Clay Biggin' 24:
What til let oot an' what tae kep their thoom upo'.
Edb. 1916 T. W. Paterson Wyse-Sayin's xii. 16:
A man o' mense claps his thoom on the sairs that are trauchlin him warst.
(13) Abd. 1921 Wkly. Free Press (21 Dec.) 2:
That's jist it: it's nae come t' their thoom' yet.
(14) Kcb. 1901 R. Trotter Gall. Gossip 308:
His wife wusna the woman tae sit doon an count her thooms because Providence had been please't tae sen misfortin.
(16) Per. 1835 R. Nicoll Poems 178:
[He] loups an' dances, cracks his thooms.
Clc. 1860 J. Crawford Doric Lays 66:
Stamp your foot — mak' sorrow flee, And blythely crack your thums!
Fif. 1894 J. Menzies Our Town i.:
I crack my thooms at them a'.
Kcb. 1896 A. J. Armstrong Kirkiebrae vi.:
Betty cracked her thumbs with a force that conveyed an idea that she held any one in contempt.
Abd. 1917 C. Murray Sough o' War 40:
‘Hobble Jennie' gars me loup, an' crack my thooms, an' hooch.
(17) Mry. 1865 W. H. L. Tester Poems 114:
Our auld vreet is like to eat His vera thooms wi' rage.
(18) Ayr. 1786 Burns Earnest Cry v.:
Does ony great man glunch an' gloom? Speak out, an' never fash your thumb!
Per. 1816 J. Duff Poems 141:
It was his siller, not his soul, That Laurie fasht his thum to save.
Kcb. 1901 R. Trotter Gall. Gossip 108:
They never fash their thooms tae fin' oot.
Abd. 1955 W. P. Milne Eppie Elrick xxix.:
Fat needs ye fash yer thoom aboot 'e twa tikes?
(20) m.Sc. 1899 J. Buchan Lost Lady iv.:
I wadna stir my thoomb fir a' the Charlies that ever whistled.
(22) Dmf. 1913 J. L. Waugh Cracks Wi' R. Doo 21:
I was makin' at the rate o' twenty-five pounds a day withoot turnin' my thoom for it.
(23) Per. 1895 R. Ford Tayside Songs 201:
Ye left Jamie Gentle to wheep on his thoom As sune's farmer Fuddle made love 'mang the broom.
(24) Sc. 1739 Session Papers, Young v. Arrat (22 Jan.) 19:
This jeering Expression, Whistle on your Thumb, Jock Sheep.
Ags. 1810 J. Paterson Poems 132:
Sae ye may whistle on your thumb: — I'll say nae mair.
Sc. 1818 Scott H. Midlothian xviii.:
We'll leave Mr. Sharpitlaw to whistle on his thumb.
Fif. 1835 R. Gilfillan Songs 178:
I syne grew bauld an' spak again; Quo' she — Gae whistle on your thoum.
Dmb. 1844 W. Cross Disruption viii.:
I may set up my kep for him and leave you to whussel on your thoom.
Kcb. 1893 Crockett Raiders xxxiv.:
“Whustle on my thoomb!” said he irreverently; “I'm bye w'it.”
Per. 1895 R. Ford Tayside Songs 72:
I carena bye, sae lang as I Can whistle on my thoom.

In combs. (also with thoomy-): (1) thoum-han(d), the nearest free available hand (Abd. 1972), specif. the right hand, of which in dexterous people the thumb is in constant use (ne.Sc., Ags. 1972); jocularly in giving directions in order to bamboozle (Kcd. 1972). Only dial. in Eng.; (2) thoum-neb, the tip of the thumb. See Neb, I. 2. (2); (3) thoum-piece, a slice of bread with butter spread on with the thumb (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Ork., ne., m., and s.Sc. 1972). See II. 5.; (4) thoum-raip, -rape, a rope of hay or straw made by twisting the strands under the tip of the thumb (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 445; Arg. 1935; Bnff., Abd., em.Sc. (a), Gall. 1972). Phr. to hae a mou like a thoum raip, to look sulky and disagreeable (Abd. 1930). Obs. exc. dial. in Eng.; (5) thoum-simman, = (4) (Cai. 1905 E.D.D.). See Simmen; (6) thoum stall, -st(e)il, -stool, -stoul(e), -stule, a leather covering for the thumb as a protection or when injured (s.Sc. 1802 J. Sibbald Chron. Sc. Poetry Gl.; Lnk. 1825 Jam.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; n.Sc., m.Sc., Rxb. 1972). Now dial. in Eng. For the second element see Stiel, n., 2., Stuil, n., 7.; (7) thoum-straik, a stroke of the thumb, used fig. of something of no consequence; (8) thoum-syme, glossed by MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. (1824) 445 as “an instrument for twisting ropes”, but the meaning is more properly the rope itself. Cf. n.Eng. dial. sime, a rope, (4) and (5) above and note to Simmen; (9) thoum vrannie, thumb-wren, the common wren, Troglodytes troglodytes (Mry. 1864 Zoologist II. 511, Mry. 1925, vrannie). See dim. forms below (1) and (2); (10) toomy snuid, = (4) (Sh. 1961); (11) thoumy thraw, a small square of paper twisted round from one corner between finger and thumb to form a small bag for sweets or the like.(1) Ags. 1853 W. Blair Aberbrothock 78:
As ye turn to your thoomb hand in gain' up the Kirk Wynd.
Abd. 1953 Edb. Ev. Dispatch (16 June):
Not ten miles on the thoom-han' side of Rosehearty.
(2) Fif. 1864 W. D. Latto T. Bodkin iv.:
Pointin' wi' his thoom-neb over his left shoother.
(3) Ork. 1920 J. Firth Reminiscences 103:
The usual “toom-piece” (bread and butter, the butter being spread with the thumb).
Lnk. 1948 J. G. Johnston Come fish with me 164:
She was soon spreading it on the scones with her thumb, which she said was the best way with butter just fresh made — the traditional “thumb piece” of Scottish farmers.
(4) Dmf. 1822 Scots Mag. (May) 635:
This thraw crook yarn o' mine may weel compare wi' thy thumb-rapes.
wm.Sc. 1835 Laird of Logan 86:
I'll no dish them for your pleasure, or ony ither body's, though they should boil till they micht be made thum' raips o'.
Abd. 1961 Gwerin III. No. 4. 205:
In Aberdeenshire it is called a ‘thoom'-rape', and the importance of the thumb in its making is emphasised by the local saying, ‘makin' a thoom'-rape wi' yer first finger'. If this were attempted, the rope would slip off, and so the expression implies the doing of a piece of work in a useless or very inefficient way.
(6) Ayr. 1792 Burns Letters (Ferguson) No. 502:
The thumb-stall I have just now drawn on my finger which I unfortunately gashed.
Clc. 1882 J. Walker Poems 9:
They jeer and tell the loot Frae her sark-tail to tear a thoomstool clout.
(7) Ags. 1853 W. Blair Aberbrothock 75:
The maister doesna gie a thoomstraik gif he gets his job dune.
(11) Abd. 1922 Swatches o' Hamespun 46:
Wyin' oot bit eerans In pyocks an' thoomy-thraws.

In dim. forms: (1) thooma(c)k, thum(m)ack, (i) a peg on a violin; (ii) the wren (Mry. 1972). Cf. (9) above and Sw. tummeliten, id.; (2) thoumie, = (1) (ii) (Mry., Abd. 1972), from its size and appearance; (3) thum(b)ikins, -kens, (i) two short iron bars screwed together to form clamps between which the thumbs were crushed as a method of torture, a thumb-screw, devised and used esp. by the Privy Council against the Covenanters in the 1680's. Hist.; (ii) mittens with thumbs (Bwk. 1942 Wettstein); (iii) in form tümikens, a thumb-rope (see Combs. (4) above) (Sh. 1963); in pl. an instrument for twisting ropes (Sh. 1972). Also in form tømikeys (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928)).(1) (i) Abd. 1868 G. MacDonald R. Falconer ix.:
Its guts ootside o' 'ts wame, an' the thoomacks to screw them up wi' an' gar't skirl?
Ags. 1954 Scots Mag. (Jan.) 316:
I canna even screw the thoomaks, or pit on the rosit.
(2) Abd. 1922 G. P. Dunbar Whiff o' Doric 24:
He kent the hidie-holie where the “thoomie” hod her nest.
Abd. 1972 Fraserburgh Herald (3 March) 6:
The tail is usually “cocked-up” at almost right angles to the body, like a small child's thumb, which earns the bird the nickname, applied by country folk, the “Thoomy.”
(3) (i) Sc. 1732 Six Saints (Fleming 1901) II. 98:
Robert Semple was squeezed in the thumbikins, to the frightful crushing of the bones of his thumbs.
Sc. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 V. 583:
The identical thumbikins, with which the Principal was severely tortured [of Edinburgh University in 1684].
Sc. 1816 Scott O. Mortality xli.:
Having the thumikins screwed on your finger-ends.
Peb. 1817 R. Brown Comic Poems 169:
Skrews, to force evidence By Thumbikens.
Ayr. 1824 A. Crawford Tales Grandmother 267:
A turn of the thumbikins will perhaps make thee a little more communicative.
Kcb. 1894 Crockett Lilac Sunbonnet xiv.:
I saw the thumbikins the other day.
Sc. 1931 J. Lorimer Red Sergeant xviii.:
What she'll say when the thumikins are on her heigh han' or the boot on that fit o hers.
(iii) Sh. 1898 Shetland News (4 June):
Lat me geng furt afore he darkens, an' see what laek da bits o' tümekins ir.

2. In reference to the practice of confirming a promise or bargain by licking one's thumb and pressing it against the wetted thumb of the other party. Chiefly in comb. and phrs. thumb-licking, to gie, lick, pawn, smit, spit on, strike, wat, weet (a) thoum(s). See also Smit, v., 3.Sc. 1722 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) III. 21:
My honest Bawsy there's my Thumb, That while I breath I'll ne'er beguile ye.
Gall. 1742 Session Bk. Penninghame (1933) II. 396:
He said to her, There is my thumb and little finger, I will never cast out with you or let me be damned.
Sc. 1773 Erskine Institute iii. iii. § 5:
Another symbol was anciently used in proof that a sale was perfected, which continues till this day in bargains of lesser importance among the lower rank of people, the parties licking and joining of thumbs: and decrees are yet extant in our records, prior to the institution of the College of Justice, sustaining sales upon summonses of thumb-licking, upon this medium, that the parties had licked thumbs at finishing the bargain.
Edb. 1816 W. Glass Songs of Edina 43:
Ah! na dear Willie dinna gang, O! callant there's my thumb.
Abd. 1824 G. Smith Douglas 65:
G. Weel, I agree, till better times shall come; N. An' sae do I. — Here, Glennie, pawn's your thum'.
Edb. 1825 R. Chambers Traditions II. 217:
Here, upon the steps leading up to the Krames, people used to implement the bargains which they had made at the Cross, by weeting thooms, or paying arles.
Sc. 1873 Trans. Highl. Soc. 298:
The old Scottish custom, at the concluding of bargains, was “to wet thumbs and then rap them.”
Ayr. 1887 J. Service Dr Duguid 78:
We'll wat thoombs on that bargain!
Arg. 1901 N. Munro Shoes of Fortune viii.:
At last he struck my thumb on the bargain.
Kcb. 1901 R. Trotter Gall. Gossip 366:
Spit on yer thoom. We'll chap han's on't.
Gsw. 1904 H. Foulis Erchie xxix.:
Erchie took his hand. “Willie,” said he, “gie me your thoomb on that.”
Sc. 1959 I. and P. Opie Lore and Language 130:
Making a bargain is similar to making a bet. In parts of Scotland including Edinburgh and Glasgow, the thumbs are wetted and pressed together.

3. In ruminants: a portion of the liver resembling the thumb (Sh. 1972).

4. As in ‡Eng. the breadth of a thumb, an inch. Used arch. in quot.Abd. 1875 G. MacDonald Malcolm xxvii.:
The lord quha wad sup on 3 thowmes o' cauld airn.

II. v. 1. As in Eng., to touch with the thumb. Phr. to thumb (someone's) belt, as a sign of submission or defeat, to become subject to, to concede mastery to.Sc. 1735 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) III. 133:
They will be forc'd to thumb your Belt At last, and a' knock under.

2. To rub or massage with the thumb, esp. to massage a sprain (Sh., ne.Sc., Ags. 1972).Abd. 1900 C. Murray Hamewith 7:
To heal a heid, or scob a bane, Or thoom a thraw.
Bnff. 1923 Banffshire Jnl. (18 Sept.) 8:
She hels fock's sairs, thooms their strains, an' streeks them fan they dee.

3. To clean by rubbing or wiping with the thumb (Sc. 1808 Jam.).Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 125:
The green-horn cutties . . . And frae them wyl'd the sleekitest that was there And thumb'd it round, and gave it to the squire.

4. To make or twist a straw rope with the thumbs (Abd. 1972).Abd. 1906 Banffshire Jnl. (24 July) 2:
They cud lat oot an' thoom an etherin.

5. To dab or press (butter on bread) with a moistened thumb (Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 273; ne., em., wm.Sc. 1972). Ppl.adj. thoom(i)t, -ed, spread with the thumb, vbl.n. thoomin, a layer of butter so spread. Phr. thoum and or or thorter, to spread (butter) with the thumb in dabs or more evenly with a knife. See Thorter, v.Edb. 1856 J. Ballantine Poems 185:
The tither cake, wi' butter thoom'd.
Per. a.1890 D. M. Forrester Logiealmond (1944) 189:
A housewife went to get bread and butter and cheese for the minister, and spread the butter on the bread with “her weeted thoom” (“thoom and thorter”)!
em.Sc. 1909 J. Black Melodies 133:
I never could eat thoomed butter a' my days.
Ags. 1919 T.S.D.C. III. 15:
She wad speir if we wanted the bannock thoomed or harlt.
ne.Sc. 1925 Scots Mag. (March) 470:
Aipple jeely, an' a thoomin' o' sweet butter.
Sc. 1934 N. M. Gunn Butcher's Broom 88:
She thumbed some butter over the bread.
Abd.15 1938:
A “thoomit piece” often tasted delicious, because of the fresh aroma of the newly-churned butter.

6. In ring-net fishing (while cotton nets were still in use), to break the mesh of (a net) with the thumb in order to empty it quickly of fish.Arg. 1930s:
Naebody saw him, right enough, but we're near sure he wiz the one that thoombed the net on Friday night.

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"Thoum n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 19 Jul 2024 <>



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